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The VolunTourist Publisher/Editor, David Clemmons
February 2006 - So You May Know

The VolunTourist™ is a premium Newsletter for the Travel Trade. For those interested in dis-covering what is happening in the world of VolunTourism and seeking emerging practices, general information, and case studies, this is your Source.

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The Collective Destination VolunTourism Model

In 2003 I wrote the first concept paper on this particular VolunTourism Model. The premise was fairly simple: the destination represents the hub of all communications between the various entities that collectively act to create VolunTourism products and services for inbound visitors.

The reality is far from simple, however.

In the last three years, I have been the beneficiary of input from folks like Don Hawkins and Kristin Lamoureux of The George Washington University's International Institute of Tourism Studies. J.Mara DelliPriscoli of The Educational Travel Conference has also provided feedback as well as members of the ETC Community. Still others, like Elisa Sabatini of Los Niños, have provided insight into the development community and how NGOs can play a substantial part in making VolunTourism not only a reality, but a sustainable reality.

The brief synopsis that follows is by no means complete. But it will provide a foundation for future discussion.

The Destination Marketing Organization (DMO)

Most every destination has an entity or governing body that is responsible for marketing and promotional activities to encourage tourism. These destination marketing organizations (DMOs) may be chambers of commerce, convention & visitors bureaus, or ministries of tourism. DMOs may or may not have members but usually their constituent base has a valid interest in the economic impact generated from tourism.

If VolunTourism is to be economically and socially viable at the destination level, then it must be embraced by the DMO. The DMO represents the point of contact for tourism stakeholders. Whether one is a visitor or a bed and breakfast, having an organization to serve as the broker of needs and services eases the transaction process, which generally starts with a "gathering of information" period.

(If you look at DMO research studies, it is amazing to read just how much time individuals will spend in researching a potential travel destination. But, generally speaking, the first place they will visit will be the DMO website.)

VolunTourism is a multi-stakeholder initiative. If properly enacted, NGOs and nonprofit organizations from the social sector and tourism operators and suppliers will collaborate to establish itineraries. These itineraries will generate social and economic impact. The successful adoption of these types of experiences by visitors can be greatly enhanced if their overall marketability is recognized and integrated by the DMO into its already existing strategic plan.

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What differentiates the Collective Destination Volun-Tourism Model from the previous models we have dis-cussed is is the overarching presence of the DMO. When the DMO becomes the hosting agent for VolunTourism, it supports numerous factors that establish functionality. Such important contributing factors may include:

  • Communications - both external and internal,
  • Identification of a broader scope of social and destination-specific needs to be addressed,
  • Introduction of non-partisan agendas based upon market forces rather than ideologies,
  • Education on the value of the socio-economic impact of tourism,
  • Cooperative marketing and promotional strategies, and
  • Access to leveraged & matching funding opportunities as well as in-kind contributions

The longstanding rationale in support of tourism has focused almost entirely on the economic impact to the destination. Have all destination residents found tourism to be an attractive option because of this? We know the answer is "No." VolunTourism, however, introduces the element of a social dividend that may prove sufficient enough to squelch even the most challenging opposition. VolunTourism offers the DMO an opportunity to silence many of its critics by employing one of its most productive steps toward responsibility and sustainability.

Social stakeholders and tourism stakeholders can acquire common understanding through the VolunTourism platform. Rather than waste precious time and resources on battling over the negative impact of tourism, the merging of the two sides in a collective approach to generate economic and social benefits may lead to greater harmony and improved outcomes for all parties. The DMO can be the catalyst as both the focal point of communications and the ultimate site of cooperation.

Drawbacks

The Collective Destination VolunTourism Model is a strategy that will evolve over time at the DMO level. It will not magically appear one day as a result of warm wishes by stakeholders. Therefore, be very clear about Volun-Tourism as a priority for your DMO. If it is not a priority, then it will require even more time to develop. In this situation, DMO members or stakeholders would be better served to start a smaller initiative, prove the viability of the concept, and then demonstrate the results to the DMO.

Conclusion

The Collective Destination VolunTourism Model represents a culmination of the other VolunTourism models that have been presented. Some DMOs may immediately select VolunTourism because of the unique voluntary service opportunities that are available to inbound guests. Certainly a destination that has recently been victimized by Mother Nature, like Thailand, Sri Lanka, the US Gulf Coast, or the Mexican Gulf Coast can immediately initiate VolunTourism strategies at the DMO level.

But others may see cultural heritage preservation and other elements that can be supported by VolunTourists as a reason to introduce this VolunTourism Model. The leadership of the DMO will have much influence as to whether VolunTourism will become a flagship of a destination, a kayak, or nothing at all.

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