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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 6 Issue 4 Highlights


So You May Know

VolunTourism 2020 Vision: 160 Million VolunTourists!

By the end of this decade, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has estimated that roughly 1.6 billion people will be traveling on an annual basis. I would like to think that of that 1.6 billion, we can engage 160 million, or ten percent, in voluntary service during some portion of their itineraries. Too optimistic? Not in my opinion. Exactly how will it be accomplished? Two items will be essential for success: 1) Destination-specific VolunTourism Web Portals, and 2) The Dragonfly Effect.

Item 1: Destination-Specific VolunTourism Web Portals

Later in 2011, I will be moving to Jordan to work with the Jordan Inbound Tour Operators Assocation (JITOA) as part of a grant provided by the Jordan Enterprise Development Corporation through the Jordan Services Modernization Program. I will live there for some time to assist the country in organizing itself to become a VolunTourism Destination. As a part of this process, we will be developing VolunTourism.JO, the first destination-based, VolunTourism web portal in the world. It will be designed primarily through 'crowd-sourcing' - - tapping into the broad base of VolunTourism stakeholders within and outside of Jordan to ensure its relevance and applicability to the audiences who will be accessing it, utilizing it, and sharing their experiences (pre-trip, during, and post-trip) of VolunTourism in Jordan. As we only have one opportunity to do this for the first time, we will be enlisting the assistance of academics, tourism industry professionals, NGOs, travelers, and community residents to coalesce a variety of viewpoints and incorporate them into the final product. Needless to say, Exciting Stuff!

Having a model VolunTourism Destination will enable other destinations around the world to: a) make a truly informed decision as to whether VolunTourism is a viable option for them, and b) craft a well-rounded approach to VolunTourism that will facilitate the engagement of stakeholders, especially through dedicated web portals.

The Dragonfly Effect

"The method relies on four essential skills, or wings: 1) focus: identify a single concrete and measurable goal; 2) grab attention: cut through the noise of social media with something authentic and memorable; 3) engage: create a personal connection, accessing higher emotions, compassion, empathy, and happiness; and 4) take action: enable and empower others to take action."

[Source: "The Dragonfly Effect", Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2011.]

Certainly, at present, there are numerous destinations around the world with a wide range of approaches to combining voluntary service with meetings, conventions, and incentive travel as well as group and individual leisure travel. However, it can prove difficult to access the information regarding available options as the web pages illustrating the opportunities may be buried beneath layers of navigation or the options may be offered in what I would call a "matador" format - "click here to contact this organization about available service options" - under such a scenario, the hospitality and customer service one would customarily expect from the tourism industry is absent. Having a dedicated web portal, featuring pre-determined projects with all of the necessary booking information, etc, is one proactive step towards alleviating this challenge for travelers, tourism professionals, NGOs, community residents, and other potential users.

Ease of use and access to information lead to decision-making processes that are much less challenging; after all, travelers are considering whether to set aside a portion of their time and resources to volunteer. Providing key elements that are important to every would-be voluntourist in a space that demonstrates not only a welcoming environment but a destination's commitment to supporting said travelers is essential. Dedicated web portals serve as excellent foundations from which a VolunTourism initiative can unfold, where communication amongst stakeholders can be directed, and where sharing, collaboration, and cooperation can have a place to call home. Remember, we know from academic research that many more people will volunteer when they are "asked" than if they are required to make the decision on their own; therefore, the web portal serves in a dual capacity as both information hub and "asking" place.

Item 2: The Dragonfly Effect

What we can really hope to achieve through crafting Destination-specific VolunTourism web portals is a means for destinations to create uniquely-tailored social media around VolunTourism.

Be it "tweets" or Facebook entries or blog posts - - having a dedicated portal will open the door to directing traffic to a specific location - branding, branding, branding. In some instances, you may even be able to avoid using bit.ly altogether when a post, entry, or update is made. Twitter users will have access to hash tags that may not currently be used by destinations, for example, #globalservice or #volunteertravel or #giveback or #voluntourism"destinationX". In addition, it catalyzes the possibility of cooperation through partnerships with NGOs and companies that offer voluntours and 'volunteer vacations' and getting them involved with the destination to cross-promote and share tourism-related content with their voluntourists, something they may not have done otherwise.

It may also give destinations a chance to tap into The Dragonfly Effect. Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith co-authored this book to highlight how social media can be used to generate social change. The authors recently wrote an article of the same title in the Winter 2011 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. The Aaker & Smith introduce us to the concept:

"A replicable framework to achieve this goal..." That is the language we want to here when we are embarking into new territory, i.e. a goal of 160 million travelers volunteering in 2020. What is this 'replicable framework' that Aaker & Smith are referring to?

'One Traveler = One Volunteer' - Getting The Dragon To Fly

Aaker & Smith suggest that one should "concentrate on a single outcome rather than 'thinking big.'" Thus, Wing #1: "identify a single concrete and measurabe goal" will be to focus on "One Traveler = One Volunteer." The penultimate expression of success in the achievement of this goal will be, obviously, 160 million voluntourists in 2020. (Please note: we will need to ramp up the data collection to know how many travelers are volunteering around the world each year in order to measure the goal. But, I think we are progressing on that front.)

We also have something that can "cut through the noise of social media with something authentic and memorable" and assist in bringing Wing #2 to fruition - - who can't have their attention grabbed by the prospect of "One Traveler = One Volunteer" with 160 million voluntourists in 2020 representing the cumulative of that effort.

To get Wing #3 flapping, we have much work to do. Aaker & Smith tell us that in order to do so, we must "get our target audience emotionally involved in our cause." How exactly do we do this? We have to build a relationship between the destination and the traveler. So much of travel is wedded to the transactional - "I search for the lowest price I can find or the best bargain I can find; I find it; I pay it; I travel. Done." The transactional will not work if we need to engage people emotionally. First, we have to 'unlearn' the transactional and become better acquainted with the relational aspect of travel. What we purchase, how we travel, where we stay, what we do - it all matters; it all has an impact on local residents AND future travelers. Second, we have to emphasize the involvement of local residents - this is not a handout, this is a shared effort. And finally, we have to look at the potential long-term implications of travelers' involvement for future travelers' enjoyment of destinations. These are emotional hooks that will lead to the engagement of travelers.

Finally, to set Wing #4 in motion, we must "spur our audience to actually act on behalf of our cause." Again, destinations will be pivotal actors in delivering a successful outcome for this objective. Destinations must insist that projects:

  • be well-designed;
  • be unique;
  • be compelling;
  • fit within the socio-economic framework of the destination and not undermine local employment; they must
  • have demonstrable, measurable outcomes;
  • be created in partnership with local residents & executed in the same manner.

Aaker & Smith also recommend that you:

As an example, take a look at Rich Tobin's program, Conservation VIP, in this issue's Supply Chain. Note that the project of removing plants from the walls of Machu Picchu is part of a long-term conservation & sustainability initiative for this 'new wonder of the world.' It is well-conceived & well-designed; it is unique; it is compelling (it's Machu Picchu!); it fits within the local socio-economic framework; it has demonstrable, measurable outcomes (see photo right); it was crafted with local government and staff of Machu Picchu.

Final Thoughts

Will our "One Traveler = One Volunteer" Dragon Fly?

Aaker & Smith conclude:

What a relief these words are, yes?

160 million voluntourists is a very, very large number. But if it is taken one traveler at a time, it does not seem utterly impossible. Yes, it means more destinations, more projects, more accessibility, more education & awareness - in short, VolunTourism will need not only destination-specific portals, but it will also require an overarching portal and a mechanism for easier access to finding a project, with the appropriately-added touristic components necessary to flesh out an overall voluntour. And, coinciding with this, will be an arduous education and awareness-building effort to help people understand just how broad the volunteer projects' continuum is. If you think voluntourism is limited to humanitarian-based projects, your thinking needs some tweaking. (Just look at the photos throughout this issue featuring the work of Conservation VIP.)

So, here's to a VolunTourism 2020 Vision: "One Traveler = One Volunteer" equals 160 Million VolunTourists. If we remain unflappable in our determination, whilst simultaneously getting our Dragonfly's Wings flapping, I have no doubt, nada, that we will be successful.

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