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September 2005 - Study and Research

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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Study and Research

EXPANDING THE CONCEPT OF VOLUNTEER VACATIONS: The Mini-Mission, or Mission Lite Concept

Welcome back! Our guest researcher is Sally Brown, President, Ambassadair Travel Club, and President and Founder of Ambassadors for Children. As if that isn’t enough, Sally is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in hospitality and tourism management at Purdue University! The following is an overview of some of the research she recently conducted in the area of mini-mission voluntourism.

There has been considerable growth in the demand for volunteer vacations in the U.S. In addition, an increase in volunteer vacation opportunities provided through a wide variety of organizations has occurred as well. The main goal of this study was to articulate a volunteer vacation concept known as the mini-mission or “mission lite,” and to determine the potential demand for the concept through a survey of vacation travelers.

The emergence of the volunteer tourism concept itself is the result of an increased recognition of, and reaction to, the negative impacts being caused by mass tourism. In addition, there is growing acceptance of the importance of giving back and conserving natural and environmental quality. It is not only the volunteers who can give back while on vacation, but local ground operators and hotel representatives may also support the effort.

The mini-mission or mission lite concept gives the traveler an opportunity to participate in an optional excursion that has a volunteer component, as well as a cultural exchange with local people.  Any tour operator can enhance their tour products by adding mission lites, while providing travel experiences with memories that last a lifetime.  Even having one or two afternoons in a minimum work situation can have a significant impact on both the volunteer and the recipients.

The needs of a particular area can often be better understood and satisfied by networking through local operators and/or NGO’s.  For example, Ambassadors for Children wanted to arrange a volunteer element for passengers going to Puerto Vallarta , Mexico . The hotel used for the tour group assisted with arranging visits to orphanages, the town dump, and villages nearby where children with many needs lived. Items like hygiene kits, school supplies, medical equipment, books, clothes, and food have been given trip after trip since the first mini-mission. The participants still had time to enjoy the traditional three Ss (sun, sea, and sand) of the destination.  However, in the future, the three Ss for their travel may become more of a journey to fulfill the soul, spirit, and stewardship.

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It is imperative that anyone preparing to organize a mini-mission volunteer project get as much specific information as possible regarding:

1. Local needs

2. The site

3. The local organization

4. Availability of supplies

5. Living conditions for hosts and guests

6. Transportation upon arrival

Additionally, the tour operator must understand the characteristics and needs of the people who are most likely to opt for volunteer vacations in lieu of traditional tour itineraries. To date, very little research had been conducted in this area. In an effort to alleviate this void in the literature, a study was conducted of participants with the not-for-profit Ambassadors for Children. This group was selected because of the wide variety of activities and destinations covered by these individuals on past mission trips. The following were the primary goals of the study:

  • To determine the overall interest levels in volunteering among vacation travelers, and specifically, to determine interest levels in the “mission lite” concept as well as in people spending the majority of vacation time volunteering.
  • To identify the types of activities for which people would be the most interested in volunteering.
  • On a preliminary basis, to suggest traveler characteristics that may be associated with interest level in volunteer vacation participation.

In terms of the first goal, it was found that while some people were willing to do volunteer work for the majority of their vacation, respondent’s indicated greater potential demand for having this as a part of an overall vacation experience. The results indicate a significant level of potential demand for the mission lite concept as an element of a tour itinerary. There appeared to be particularly good demand for half- to full-day volunteer experiences, as well as for up to three days of volunteer work. This should be of great interest to current tour operators worldwide, as well as potential partners in local NGOs and other volunteer organizations, as they contemplate how to provide added value to their tour products.

Referring to the second goal, the activities in which the respondents had the greatest interest in participating on volunteer vacations were:

1. Arts and craft activities with children

2. Chaperoning orphans

3. Educational activities

4. Building projects

5. Physical fitness activities

6. Medical assistance

Local tour operators and hotels can be of considerable assistance in identifying at-need populations and in helping to arrange the activities designed to assist these people.

In terms of the final goal, mission-lite traveler characteristics, the profile of those who are likely to be interested in volunteer vacation participation was not terribly surprising. Supporters of mission-lite appear to be likely to volunteer in their home communities and hold at least a Bachelor’s degree. Respondents who vacationed more frequently and enjoyed higher household incomes than the average respondent may be more likely to participate.

As with any form of voluntourism, it is not without its shortcomings. Some argue that brief visits of only 1-2 days are not effective in truly creating a bond between the host and guest. However, for some segments of the voluntourism market, this may be the only way to expose them to the unique and life-changing experience of voluntourism.

If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail Dr. Sally Brown. Next month we will continue this conversation with a discussion of research Sally recently conducted examining participant’s motives and perceived benefits of voluntourism. In other words, why do they say they do it?!?

Nancy McGehee, PhD., Virginia Tech University

See you next issue!

Nancy McGehee , Ph.D.

Hospitality and Tourism Management, Virginia Tech

Blacksburg VA

nmcgehee@vt.edu

For more Study & Research Articles visit Dr. McGehee's VolunTourism Research Forum. Go There >>>

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