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

Volume 5 Issue 3 Highlights


So You May Know

VolunTourism 2012

In our relentless pursuit to become prognosticators of planetary dissolution, 13 November 2009 marks yet another of Hollywood's ubiquitous installments in this never-ending series - "2012." The Mayan calendar will reach the conclusion of one of its five cycles and human civilization will be eradicated once more on a motion picture screen. For those who view the hype as the 'revelations' of half-wits, however, Mayan civilization may garner salient appeal, so much so that you may decide to visit Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras or Belize over the next three years. Can VolunTourism be a vehicle for contributing to the Mayan culture - the preservation of its wealth of knowledge and understanding as well as the support of its people during this upcoming period? Yes - I believe it can.

Walter Cruttenden is not a household name, not yet that is. Cruttenden is the author of Lost Star of Myth and Time and the executive producer of the documentary The Great Year, narrated by James Earl Jones. He is also the founder of the Binary Research Institute and convener of the Conference on Precession and Ancient Knowledge (CPAK). Mr. Cruttendun is collaborating with academics, scientists, philosophers, and practitioners to take a closer look at the precession of the earth's equinox. Cruttenden writes on the BRI website:

The significance of Cruttenden's and others' contributions to our growing understanding of ancient civilizations makes the upcoming ending of one of the five-part Mayan calendar cycles much more palatable. In fact, it makes it downright intriguing. And it is this intrigue, coupled with our self-preservation-based-aversion to the thought of a vanishing humanity via cataclysmic upheaval, that may very well draw us to have not only a greater appreciation for Mayan and other ancient cultures, but it may also spark us to visit these locations, especially over the next several years - during a noted period of transition in the Mayan calendar.

Preparation for VolunTourists

As you are probably aware, there are a number of entities that already serve Mayan communities throughout Central America. If visitation to these parts of the world are to be conducted in an orderly manner, one that does not overwhelm the communities and provides true service to all stakeholders, then it is time to begin our collective preparation - some might argue that we have passed this time. But begin we shall.

What should be done first?

Communication is the priority. This post is one item in a multiple-step education and awareness-building effort. Other individuals are likely thinking about this, too. Hopefully this will spark conversation.

Another question: How do we collaborate to support the stakeholder groups - most especially, the Mayan people and their communities?

Doubtless, social media will be involved. The media will be involved. Ministries of tourism and other tourism industry professionals will be involved. The nonprofit/third sector will be involved. It will be, in large part, the responsibility of NGOs to ensure that the views of the Mayan people are involved. Travelers and travel planners will be involved.

Creating a clearinghouse or one-stop-shop could be a direct outcome of hearing all of these voices and compiling their respective points-of-view and assets which they bring. Will it be a clearinghouse? Will it include an option for bookings? Will it be an information site only? An inventory of the various projects and operations serving Mayan communities could certainly be part of the compilation.

Looking at the Inca Trail, for example, and similar approaches to structured visitation to a given area will be paramount. The travel industry will be able to share these insights with the nonprofit world, and, in a reciprocal manner, the nonprofit community can guide the travel industry in how to connect with communities in a respectful, developmentally meaningful way. Academics will be positioned to support the organized communication amongst and between stakeholder groups - keeping in mind that knowledge represents the foundational element of any exchange that occurs.

Ongoing Monitoring Coupled With Infrastructure Support

To avoid an over-run of Mayan communities on or near 21 December 2012 will require some serious planning and ongoing monitoring. Voluntourists and responsible travelers represent pivotal audiences in maintaining the level of respect for the cultural treasures and Mayan people. Identifying service projects that can directly and indirectly support tourism infrastructure development - whether these are temporary or permanent in nature - will indeed prove valuable. Structural improvements for homestays is an example of one project type that could be initiated. There is also the possibility of community lodges, or community hosting structures.

Key to this infrastructure development will be the method by which monies are collected and distributed within the community. How will the collection and distribution be handled to avoid some of the pitfalls experienced in other communities around the world? Will governments or NGOs intervene to pool assets in a structured way to allow for a nominal cash-flow over an extended period as opposed to lump sum distributions all at once? These questions will need to be addressed by far wiser heads. But, I do feel that it is important to bring this to the attention of those who may not be considering, at present, the implications of a seemingly far-off event.

Likely, we can learn from the Olympics and "Mega-Sporting" Events (MSEs). We may also be able to learn from the implementation of strategies to address the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Strategic alignment with MSEs and MDGs is worth exploring and we touch on these throughout this issue.

Concluding Thought

There is no lacking in visionary folks to address 2012. I am hopeful that we can do our part within the VolunTourism Community, as there is an existing motivation to be of service and to render it consciously. Because many perspectives are involved, it is difficult to ascertain how well this will coalesce in the weeks and months ahead. Hopefully the time frame now available to us will be sufficient to honor all of the stakeholders, especially the Mayan people.

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