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Volume 2 Issue 3 - 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



David Aabo, Peace Corps Volunteer and Coffee Tourist

I am very excited to welcome David Aabo to the Research Forum section of “The Voluntourist.” Mr. Aabo writes to us from Lima, Peru. His affinity for adventure travel started while studying Business Administration at Colorado State University.  He then went to Africa and served in Peace Corps Mauritania's Small Business Education program. Currently he is furthering his education in South America in the Master's International program with Peace Corps Peru and the School for International Training, where he will shortly receive a MS degree in Organizational Management. Mr. Aabo’s research is in a slightly different form from previous entries: he uses the case study approach, which can be extremely valuable for both novice and seasoned voluntourism practitioners. In this contribution to the Voluntourist, Dave provides a do’s and don’t’s for what he is calling “Adventure Service Tourism.” Enjoy!

A coffee farmer in Peru once told me a story about meeting a tourist who thought coffee came from a mine. After we shared a laugh, the farmer proceeded to show me exactly where his coffee grows, explain what makes it organic, and point out the diversity of other plants found in his fields. As a result of that meeting, and a series of events where something more than chance was involved, volunteers in Peru can now go see this very farmer and participate in the production chain of coffee in an adventure service tourism product. I refer to these first adventurous experiences with tourism in a rural town as Coffee Tourism.

Coffee Tourism in Northern Peru refers to the opportunity for outsiders to learn and experience the production chain of organic coffee and sugar while providing a service to the producers. These opportunities include day trips or longer term visits where volunteers are fed and housed by those farmers they serve. Volunteers help harvest coffee during the busiest times of the year to promoting organic and Fair Trade products once volunteers return to their hometowns. Alternative, agricultural, rural and farm tourism provide orientation for the adventure that embodies Coffee Tourism.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer with the Small Business Development program in the tropical mountains of Northern Peru, I took part in the coffee tourism evolution that occurred over the two-year period of my service. After many discussions and farmer association meetings and trainings(1) in the rural town of Sícchez, it became obvious that small scale farmers were eager to diversify their incomes through tourism in a dynamic coffee market. The infrastructure was not in place for large groups expecting porcelain toilets or cable TV (e.g. some neighborhoods do not have running water or electricity – although there are plans for their arrival) so a model for small-scale, adventure-oriented volunteer experiences was chosen.


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Volunteering on coffee farms in Sícchez is an adventure considering the journey to get there, the living conditions, and the work undertaken while there. Public transportation takes six to eight hours from the department capital, half of which is spent on bumpy dirt roads, creating an intimate experience with the other passengers, the chicken, fish and other cargo of limited supply in the mountains. The uncertain outcomes, the novelty, the stimulation and excitement begin. Once in Sícchez, the rustic living conditions (e.g. food prepared over an open fire) and beautiful steep valleys, terraced farming offer a sense of escapism and separation. Avoiding poisonous snakes and spiders while harvesting coffee and grinding sugar cane to be evaporated into sugar are some of the inherent risks and anticipated rewards of volunteering.

An understanding was reached between a number of the farmer associations and an international volunteer agency located in Peru(2). The farmer groups receive volunteers, feed them and offer a bed in exchange for the human resource provided by volunteers(3). The operator or volunteer agency connects with potential volunteers willing to provide a service to the destination. Volunteers provide labor in the fields and/or English classes to youth in the community. Additionally, they take the experiences with them and share them with friends and family at home. The cultural exchange, consistently praised in evaluations, is an integral part of the experience.

In offering a Coffee Tourism product, a number of issues or questions to consider while developing a similar product, arise. First, will it be profitable and how with benefits be distributed? Devising a way in which the benefits are spread across the community and participating member farmers can be a challenge. Second, does it improve or damage the environment? Training and orientation before arrival can educate volunteers about environmental concerns in the destination. Third, does it appreciate local culture? Intercultural exchange can create or destroy value in an adventure service tourism project. Lastly, is it acceptable to authorities? Local authorities can facilitate future arrivals, building permits, etc. These issues are related to economic, ecological, social/cultural and political aspects that make-up a framework for evaluating sustainability(4).

Based on the experience briefly described in Northern Peru a number of promising practices emerged. These steps proved useful in Sícchez for developing an adventure VolunTourism product and conceivably can be applicable for you, a practitioner, as well.

  • Take an inventory of the adventure service tourism resources
    • What service can volunteers provide?
    • What makes it an adventure?
    • How is cross cultural exchange ensured?
  • Know the reality
    • Is this something the community wants?
    • How will the environment be impacted?
    • Who will lead the endeavor? Participation is the key to motivation(5).
  • Start small – pilot projects are key
    • How and when can a short-term attempt take place?
    • How can long-term relationships and rapport be created?
  • Get connected to the network
    • Who else might be interested (internally & externally) in the idea?
  • Monitor and evaluate
    • What can be done before, during and after service to continuously improve the experience for all those involved?

In developing an adventure service tourism opportunity, the process is just as important as the final product. Spending time doing a primary analysis – framed against economic, ecological, social/cultural and political aspects – can prove beneficial in assessing the feasibility and sustainability. Promising practices, extracted from a Coffee Tourism experience in Northern Peru, outline where adventure strives forsustainable development - through service.

(1) For more information on the union of coffee producers and the NGO that advises them check out www.cepicafe.com.pe and www.pidecafe.com.pe

(2) see www.otracosa.info for specifics on the volunteer experiences they offer in Sícchez

(3) see www.wwoof.org for the basis of such an exchange

(4) I develop such a framework in my capstone research for the Master’s International program through the School for International Training “Sustainable Tourism Realities: A Case for Adventure Service Tourism”

(5) I first heard this while volunteering at www.VillageEarth.org

Hope you enjoyed this edition’s Research Forum! If you have any questions or comments, please either submit your questions to the Voluntourist newsletter, or e-mail Dave Aabo at dave.aabo@gmail.com – if you can catch him when he’s not in Peru picking coffee beans! Next time we look forward to once again hearing from Mr. Aabo!

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 >>>

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