VolunTourism Trips Inside VolunTourism.org Resources Global Education Media Contact Us Home



Volume 2 Issue 1 - 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.




So You May Know
Wisdom & Insight
Supply Chain
Study & Research


Study and Research



Nancy Gard McGehee, Ph.D., Virginia Tech, and

Kathleen Andereck, Ph.D., Arizona State University West

This issue I want to share some work I (along with my Colleague Kathleen Andereck) have been doing with Los Niños in the area of resident attitudes toward tourism. For those of you who attended the Voluntourism Forum, I apologize for the redundancy. For those of you who did not, you missed a great networking and informational experience!

Kathy and I would like to thank profusely the staff of Los Niños and Esperanza, the Promotoras, and the residents of Tijuana who opened their hearts and homes to us. Over 130 people completed the questionnaire, often while trying to dress and feed children or get ready to go to work.

Most of the research in voluntourism has concentrated on the volunteer tourist as opposed to the residents of the local community who host the volunteers. There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that volunteer tourism is advantageous to local communities, but to date no empirical research has been published. Many tourism researchers have looked at resident attitudes toward mass tourism, focusing on trying to make general statements about the population’s opinion of the existence of tourism in their communities, but none have looked at resident’s attitudes specifically toward voluntourism.

The target sample for this study was found amidst the folks who work with Los Niños in Tijuana, Mexico. Due to a number of factors, including proximity to the US as a border city, accessibility to much of the US population, exploding population and large percentage of impoverished citizens, Tijuana is a highly “voluntoured” city. Los Niños is one of many non-profit organizations that coordinate volunteer tourism activities primarily between American college students and communities within Tijuana. In particular, Los Niños is involved in the Promotoras program, which utilizes a train-the-trainers approach for individual members of communities within Tijuana in leadership, organizing, and community education. In cooperation and collaboration with the Promotoras, volunteer tourists spend an average of one week working on community-directed basic construction projects, most often targeting elementary schools.


Tuesdays 10am ET/7am PT

Due to the extremely rapid growth of Tijuana and the low tax base from which the government operates, financial support for the construction of school facilities is nearly non-existent, particularly in low-income neighborhoods. Often children initially attend classes in buildings made of scrap corrugated aluminum or abandoned garage doors. Los Niños coordinates activities between the local residents and the volunteers, who pay for their own housing, food, and transportation, as well as purchasing all of the construction materials and equipment necessary for their projects. Local residents work side-by-side on the construction projects with the volunteer tourists.

The survey instrument for this project was developed using the general resident attitudes literature as its foundation that was then modified to address some of the specific issues of volunteer tourism. The instrument was first translated into Spanish by a native Mexican living in the Phoenix area, then refined by the Director of Los Niños. A final round of recommendations was made by the 5-member executive committee of the Promotoras, further refining the instrument so that it was written in a manner that best reflected “Tijuanan Spanish”.

A survey of residents who were likely to be impacted by volunteer tourism (both directly and indirectly) was conducted using a variety of purposive samples, including an intercept survey conducted at two of the Los Niños volunteer sites (n= 30) and a meeting of the Promotoras (n=22). In addition, each of the Promotoras at the meeting were asked to go to their local communities and garner 5-10 surveys from friends and neighbors (n=180). Finally, through the cooperation of Esperanza, a not-for-profit group that provides micro-credit toward home building and ownership, the researchers conducted surveys of residents who had some direct experience with volunteer tourists (n=28). Surveys for this group were conducted both in-home and during a neighborhood meeting. In this way the barriers of both language and culture between the researchers and the local community were overcome, as well as obtaining a sampling of residents who had a variety of levels of contact and experience with volunteer tourists in the area. A total of 260 surveys were distributed, 135 were returned and useable, resulting in a 52% response rate. All of the findings I am going discuss below have basically the same structure – respondents were asked to rate each item on a scale of 1-5, 5 being most favorable, 1 being least favorable.

So what did we find? One series of questions asked about the kinds of volunteer programs residents would like to see, i.e. what they would like to see the volunteers doing. Overall, these items were all well-received. Los Niños and Esperenza focus on school repair and home repair, so it was not surprising that these were ranked the highest among respondents (Table 1).

Table 1: Types of Voluntourism programs that could be developed in the community. (n = 135)

I would like to see increased occurrence of volunteer activities like:



School facility repair and enhancement




Home repair for low income families




Medical assistance to local residents (doctors, dentists, nurses, etc.)




Community center/library repair and enhancement




English language training




Planting vegetable gardens




Assisting children with schoolwork




Job skills training to local residents




Opportunities for volunteers to purchase home-made products




*Note: Mean is based on a 1-5 scale, 5 being extremely acceptable.

Our questionnaire also inquired about the types of community development residents might like to see that could potentially allow volunteers to inject more of their money in the community (Table 2). All were met with fairly neutral responses (between 3.2 - 3.6 out of 5), just above average, so none were too wildly received. Language Immersion programs were the highest ranked, while Homestays were least favored.

Table 2: Types of development that could occur in the community as a way to increase the economic benefit of Voluntourism activities. (n = 135)

 Increased development of:




Language immersion programs that help volunteers learn more about your community




Local Food Fairs that volunteers’ could attend




Catering opportunities that target volunteers




Local Art Fairs that volunteers’ could attend




Historic/cultural programs presented to volunteers by local residents



Farmer’s Markets




Local Music Events that volunteers’ could attend




Locally-owned home-stays that target volunteers




*Note: Mean is based on a 1-5 scale, 5 being extremely acceptable.

Respondents were asked to tell us how much they agreed or disagreed with a series of questions asking about the impacts –both positive and negative – of voluntourism. Overall, people agreed with the positive impacts of voluntourism. The two positive impacts that were not as well-received as the others were “encourages cultural cultivation” and “improves facilities.”

Overall, residents rated the negative impacts of voluntourism very low, toward the “strongly disagree” category. The one negative impact that residents seemed to express the greatest concern over was the perception that traditional culture could be altered by voluntourism. These findings are somewhat different from what we see in mass tourism, where residents commonly rank crime, litter, and vandalism much higher.

So what can we conclude from these findings, and where do we go from here?

In terms of the types of voluntourism programs most supported by local residents, I would argue that in this case, the types of programs that received the greatest support were those in which the community were most familiar – and those which made the most sense for the particular community. While school repair and home building may not rank the highest with your host community, the process is what’s important here. As a voluntourism organization, you may take this information into account as you consider potential new areas of voluntourism. Before you “take the plunge”, make sure you have involved your host communities in the decision-making so that you can develop a program that residents are both in favor of and feel as if they have had active ownership and involvement in the process.

In terms of the positive and negative impacts of tourism, in the case of Tijuana, Mexico, overall there was strong agreement with the positive impacts and strong disagreement with the negative impacts. However, the interesting finding here is the “cultural connection” between the weakest positive impact (encourage cultural cultivation) and the strongest negative impact (changes traditional culture): while neither is particularly strong in their respective directions, this may be a bit of a heads up for all of us to pay attention to the cultural elements of our voluntourism experiences, and to be aware of the power relationships that exist between voluntourists and their hosts.

Hope you enjoyed this issue ’s Research Forum! If you have any questions about this research, or if you have any interest in conducting research in your own community, please contact Nancy McGehee at nmcgehee@vt.edu. Next issue, you’ll once again be hearing from me about some additional findings we gleaned from our work in Tijuana, this time in relation to community planning for voluntourism.

Nancy McGehee, PhD., Virginia Tech University

See you next issue!

Nancy McGehee , Ph.D.

Hospitality and Tourism Management, Virginia Tech

Blacksburg VA


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

[Return To The Top]



A seamlessly integrated combination of voluntary service to a destination and the best, traditional elements of travel—arts, culture, geography, and history—in that destination.

717 Third Avenue
Chula Vista, CA 91910
Phone: 619.434.6230
Fax: 619.426.6664

General Inquiries

Subscribe to
The VolunTourist
free newsletter


First Name

Last Name