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Study and Research
A CASE STUDY OF ADVENTURE VOLUNTOURISM:
MIXING SERVICE AND ADVENTURE:
GETTING THE ADVENTURE VOLUNTOURISM MIXTURE RIGHT!
David Aabo, Peace Corps Volunteer
Once again we welcome David Aabo, all the way from Lima, Peru, to the Research Forum section of “The VolunTourist”. Mr. Aabo uses the “case study approach” to reserarch, this time applying it to what he calls “Adventure VolunTourism.” In this contribution to the VolunTourist, David provides evidence from the case of the Peruvian Foundation for the Conservation of Nature, ProNaturaleza, to point out the importance of including the right balance of adventure, service, and conservation in this example of Adventure VolunTourism.
As seen with last issue’s case of Coffee Tourism, Adventure VolunTourism can take a variety of forms. What remains constant is the attention given to economic, ecological, social and political issues when developing a new product. It is equally important for practitioners to consider the appropriate mix of service, adventure, and conservation for any Adventure VolunTourism experience. In exploring the programs offered by the Peruvian Foundation for the Conservation of Nature, ProNaturaleza, a number of lessons learned provide insight into the service and adventure aspects of Adventure VolunTourism.
ProNaturaleza has been active in conserving the biodiversity of Peru for over twenty years. Relying solely on limited philanthropic donations, a common dilemma for many Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), was taking its toll. In order to diversify funding sources and complement conservation projects with an established infrastructure and staff, creating a VolunTourism program was viewed as a possible solution. In working with ProNaturaleza three potential pitfalls of applying Adventure VolunTourism ideals to an existing operation became evident:
The experience not fulfilling Adventure VolunTourist’s expectations as an adventure
Attempting to offer too many programs or too many destination options
Not having the appropriate amount of service opportunities available to Adventure VolunTourists during their stay
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Currently, ProNaturaleza is focusing on only one destination in the biodiverse Pacaya Samaria National Reserve. Local management groups direct conservation activities within the Reserve. These local management groups were formed to administer the Reserve’s management plan. Each year the management groups join together for planning meetings and set goals for conservation and protection activities. Monthly meetings outline specific activities such as defining palm tree reforestation activities or identifying new access routes of turtle egg poachers. Adventure Conservation is the name given to the Adventure VolunTourism programs offered by ProNaturaleza that rely on the local management groups as counterparts for volunteers.
Adventure Conservation opportunities are categorized by six activity themes according to the activities undertaken by the local management groups. These activity themes include:
- River turtle conservation
- Palm tree management
- Sustainable fishing
- Women in development
- Environmental education
- Sustainable tourism advising
First and foremost, these experiences must meet the expectations of VolunTourists as an adventure.
Adventure Conservation offered by ProNaturaleza can be classified as an adventure for a variety of reasons. Merely entering the Amazon river basin fits a variety of characteristics of an adventure [See Adventure Tourism: The New Frontier (Swarbrooke, 2003)] such as: uncertain outcomes (what flora/fauna are going to be seen while collecting turtle eggs, or fishing the world’s largest freshwater fish?), some element of danger or risk (climbing palm trees to harvest fruit, avoiding venomous bugs or animals), anticipated rewards (seeing wildlife in the undisturbed jungle, or helping improve the guide service offered by locals) and escapism/separation (the inherent seclusion and remoteness). The thrill and exhilaration of visiting the jungle carries with it a level of exploration, discovery, and novelty. As a volunteer adapting to the way of life in the jungle, the food, the weather, and the transportation systems can be a challenge requiring high levels of absorption and focus.
While the location and activities certainly qualify as an adventure, it is also necessary to consider the complete service aspect while avoiding the potential pitfall of offering too much, too early. An example of this is starting numerous Adventure VolunTourism programs, in various destinations, all at the same time. Although the current ProNaturaleza offerings are ambitious, the opportunities are limited to certain months of the year – predominantly when river levels recede. As the working hours and focus of activities depends on the local weather and environmental conditions, management groups hold weekly meetings in collaboration with the VolunTourists that dictate, for example, whether they will plant palm trees or climb them to harvest fruit. The number of volunteers admitted is capped at two per management group so as not to create too much of a burden or distraction for the group.
It is important to remember, too, that rested Adventure VolunTourists are more productive than tired, overworked volunteers. For example, getting up at 4 am to go fishing does not bode well for staying fully awake and focused for a meeting in the evening – without programming a time to rest. Limited, simple and small entry programs balance diverse offerings and create a manageable initial phase. An example of this is selecting one community in the Reserve with a variety of activities available to host a small number of initial Adventure VolunTourists and growing the program from there – a pilot program approach.
Researching established operators who offer a variety of holistic service opportunities, without sacrificing quality, is recommended. Lessons learned from established operators have the potential to show through in the structure of the program – such as choosing the correct organizational form for the local reality. FairGroundSessions demonstrates creative ways to take the experience home and share with friends and family, through slideshows, parties or business events, their accomplishments. In this sense, the service continues after leaving the destination into an educational/promotional element.
Offering too much too early is contrasted with the pitfall of not having enough work to do. It is frustrating for VolunTourists to pay money to get to the destination and then accomplish outlined tasks in a shorter time than anticipated and are left with little else to do. Moreover, it is a missed opportunity for the operator to have idle, willing VolunTourists. To avoid this, it behooves operators to coordinate with counterparts numerous activities for the Adventure VolunTourists’ prior to their arrival. The six activity themes of Adventure Conservation, offered by ProNaturaleza, aim to make sufficient service opportunities available. Effective programs that provide a service to the destination are the convergence of VolunTourists’ skills and interests with the stated needs of local counterparts – such as the management groups in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve.
Applying Adventure VolunTourism principles to an existing program should provide authentic service and actually be an adventure. Understanding what makes an experience an adventure curbs against the pitfall of it not being one. Any one visit by VolunTourists is unlikely to solve all identified challenges of a destination but provides a basis for continuous improvement. Attempting to do too much during a visit can create disappointment among communities and be detrimental to the reputation of the operator. Finding a balance between concrete service activities and unrealistic goals for a program can be challenging. Creative planning, involving local counterparts and honest promotional materials can all hedge against the temptation to offer too much or too little of what can be accomplished by Adventure VolunTourists.
Thanks so much, Dave, for this edition’s Research Forum! If you have any questions or comments about this exciting research, please either submit them to the VolunTourist newsletter, or e-mail Dave Aabo at email@example.com.
See you next issue!
Nancy McGehee , Ph.D.
Hospitality and Tourism Management, Virginia Tech
For more Study & Research Articles visit Dr. McGehee's VolunTourism Research Forum. Go There >>>
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