"Volunteers hard at work shaping and installing the logs of the Golconda Boarding House in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado." (Photo by Rebecca Torsell) Copyright © HistoriCorps, All Rights Reserved
Study and Research
A REVIEW OF "INTERNATIONAL VOLUNTEER TOURISM: INTEGRATING TRAVELLERS AND COMMUNITIES," CAB International, Oxfordshire, UK
Stephen Wearing, PhD
University of Technology, Sydney, Australia
Nancy McGehee, PhD
Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia
For this issue of the research forum section of The VolunTourist Newsletter, we are attempting something a little different. After years of talking about it, Stephen Wearing and Nancy McGehee have finally found a few projects upon which to collaborate. In addition to a recent review of the exploding academic literature in the area of volunteer tourism that was recently published in Tourism Management, Nancy and Stephen are excited to share some of the highlights and excerpts of their recent book “International Volunteer Tourism: Integrating Travellers and Communities,” published by CABI. At its core are some of the initial observations made by Stephen in his book “Volunteer Tourism: Experiences That Make a Difference” written over 10 years ago, but the current book includes much more.
As anyone who is a regular reader of “The Voluntourist” knows, things have changed in the last decade! Volunteer tourism is no longer an obscure segment of alternative tourism but instead has manifested itself across the full spectrum of the tourism industry. Concentrating on the experiences of the volunteer tourist, the host community, volunteer tourism organizations, and the spaces where the three converge, “International Volunteer Tourism” maintains the much-debated view of volunteer tourism as having the potential to be positive and sustainable when built upon a decommodified foundation. It examines a broad spectrum of behaviours and experiences and considers critically where the volunteer tourist experience both compliments and collides with host communities and supporting organizations. With international case studies based in such diverse destinations as Thailand, Kenya and Cuba, the book provides a multi-faceted perspective that will be of significant interest to researchers and students in tourism, geography, planning, and recreation and leisure studies. Before presenting a brief overview of the book's format and highlights, Stephen and Nancy would be remiss if they did not also give credit to Simone Grabowski of the University of Technology,Sydney, Matthew McDonald of Assumption University, Bangkok, and John Wilson, also of Assumption University, Bangkok, for their chapter contributions.
Not surprisingly, Chapter One lays the groundwork for the book, including definitions for the basic terms we often use but don’t always clarify in the world of volunteer tourism. Mass tourism, sustainable tourism, alternative tourism eco-tourism, pro-poor tourism, and of course volunteer tourism all get attention, not only in terms of definition but also limitations and debates. For instance, is alternative tourism always sustainable? Do we really know what sustainable tourism looks like? And is volunteer tourism the ultimate alternative tourism? Chapter One sets the tone that this book is about asking questions that require a critical perspective and interpretivist worldview.
Chapter nine concludes the book by looking ahead to the potential futures of volunteer tourism. In particular, the economic form, motivations, and planning and policy of volunteer tourism in the future come under the miscroscope. Volunteer tourism is, in many ways, standing at a crossroads. Will it succumb, like many other forms of tourism, to commodification, or will it resist and become an example of an enlightened, decommodified experience? Next, will the altruism versus self-development debate be put to rest? And finally, will the ground-breaking efforts like those of TIES Voluntourism guidelines (2012) result in a more formalized accreditation process that is accessible to a wide range of volunteer tourism providers, or will accreditation only be financially viable for a few elite volunteer tourism organizations?
Chapter Two turns the spotlight on to alternative tourism, making the argument that this is the home of volunteer tourism. In exploring alternative tourism experiences within the context of deeper discussions about culture and society, it is proposed that alternative tourism experiences can best be clarified by the particularity of the specific tourist experience. Issues of power and resistance are introduced to the mix, as are the unique roles of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Specifically, Wearing and McGehee argue that “it must be asked as to whether it is possible for alternative tourism experiences to legitimately incorporate an ethos that diverges from the forms of tourism discussed above. If demonstrable alternatives to market driven tourism ideologies are identifiable, there may in fact then be a considerable range of scope for the provision of forms of tourism experience with significantly divergent outcomes. These may take the form of alternative infrastructure and pricing mechanisms, increased community involvement or lower forms of impact. It is within this context that this book desires to place volunteer tourism” (2013, p35).
Chapter three focuses on community development in volunteer tourism destinations. Ideally, volunteer tourism programs and projects are developed in a way that places the community at the center of the discussion. While many organizations wholeheartedly agree with and work to implement this perspective, they sometimes struggle with the operationalization of the concept. Fortunately, there are several practical community-based tourism development models available that can address this problem. These include the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) approach, the Tourism Optimisation Management Model (TOMM), Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), and Appreciative Inquiry (AI). Each brings a viable framework to the community development table that can assist with the inclusion of volunteer tourism in the alternative tourism mix. Chapter three explains each of these models in detail and provides examples of their value to volunteer tourism development.
Chapter four discusses the importance of the volunteer tourism organization as a vital component of the three legged stool of the host community, the volunteer tourist, and the volunteer tourism organization. After initially laying the groundwork that includes a review of the research in this area, the authors target several exemplary organizations, including Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA), Mobility International USA (MIUSA), and Youth Challenge International (YCI). For each organization, an overview is provided that includes an introduction or brief history of the organization, its operational structure, funding sources and priorities, and a volunteer profile. The chapter concludes with a list of other exemplary volunteer tourism organizations.
"Volunteers pause to strike a pose while working to rehabilitate the Devil’s Head Lookout Tower in Pike San Isabel National Forest, CO." (Photo by Jonas Landes) Copyright © HistoriCorps, All Rights Reserved
Chapter five is written by Simone Grabowski and explores the motivations and perspectives of the volunteer tourist. This includes a review of the work in mainstream tourism motivations, with particular attention paid to the theoretical perspectives that have been at the center of the discussion for decades. This is followed by a more specific discussion that targets the unique motivations of volunteer tourists, including the altruism versus self-development debate, the role of adventure/discovery, social interaction, learning, and timing. The chapter concludes that there is not one single motivation that is more common among volunteer tourists than the others, and in fact the core motivation will vary depending on a person’s values, personality, and life stage. Although a number of empirical studies have been cited, current research is still limited, and a clear picture has yet to emerge on whether the motives of volunteer tourists differ according to demographics or some other independent variable.
Chapter six is organized into two primary sections. The first section introduces the reader to a potential mechanism that can improve the way projects are established and evaluated with local communities: The 2008 Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC). These guidelines brought together over 40 of the world's leading public, private, non-profit, and academic institutions in a broad-based stakeholder consultation process. The GSTC focus on: maximizing social and economic benefits to local communities; reducing negative impacts on cultural heritage; reducing harm to local environments; and planning for sustainability. Standards such as these can bring about less market-based and more genuine local community projects and volunteer tourism experiences grounded in the cultures and daily lives of local communities. The second section presents research on three volunteer tourism programs, including the Taita Discovery Centre in Kenya (by Andrew Lepp), the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, Phuket Thailand (by Sue Broad & John Jenkins), and a collection of study tours to Cuba including Global Exchange Reality Tours and Oxfam (by Rochelle Spencer). The chapter concludes with a hopeful nod toward the recently established, but as yet untested, 2012 TIES Voluntourism Guidelines.
Chapter seven, written by Matthew McDonald and John Wilson, presents an existential perspective to volunteer tourism. McDonald and Wilson begin with background on the history, research, and paradigm of existentialism. They then tackle the notion of authenticity and the role of volunteer tourism in creating an authentic experience. They claim that volunteer tourism differs from other forms of tourism in that it offers much greater opportunities to negotiate the fundamental conditions of existence, and therefore modes of authenticity. In most forms of tourism, the tourist is chaperoned and protected in the countries, regions, and cities they seek to travel through (Olsen, 2002). In contrast, volunteer tourism ideally dissolves the barriers that exist between tourists, locals, culture, and the environment. By its very nature it fosters intimacy and closeness when volunteers find themselves working and living alongside their hosts; it affords a degree of mutual exchange and interaction that is uncommon in other forms of tourism (Zahra & McIntosh, 2007).
"Volunteers rehabilitated the historic Lookout Mountain Fire Lookout in Idaho’s Sawtooth National Forest, perched on a remote peak and offering stunning views in all directions." (Photo by Doug Stephens) Copyright © HistoriCorps, All Rights Reserved
Chapter eight closely examines the intersect between community and culture, specifically the extremely elusive concept of cross-cultural relations between hosts and guests, both in terms of mainstream and volunteer tourism. Issues of tourist privilege over host communities, the notion of ‘Othering’ at both the individual and community level, and methods of resistance implemented by the host community are all addressed. The chapter concludes with research-based recommendations to encourage rich and rewarding cross-cultural experiences for both the volunteer tourist and the local community.
Chapter nine concludes the book by looking ahead to the potential futures of volunteer tourism. In particular, the economic form, motivations, and planning and policy of volunteer tourism in the future come under the miscroscope. Volunteer tourism is, in many ways, standing at a crossroads. Will it succumb, like many other forms of tourism, to commodification, or will it resist and become an example of an enlightened, decommodified experience? Next, will the altruism versus self-development debate be put to rest? And finally, will the ground-breaking efforts like those of TIES Voluntourism guidelines (2012) result in a more formalized accreditation process that is accessible to a wide range of volunteer tourism providers, or will accreditation only be financially viable for a few elite volunteer tourism organizations? While these questions cannot yet be answered, they certainly need to come to the forefront of research and policy in volunteer tourism. The goal of this chapter in particular, and the book overall, is to pose these questions and encourage the dialogue to continue across and amongst researchers, volunteer tourism providers, the local communities, and volunteer tourists everywhere.
We hope that this edition of the Research Forum will generate healthy and constructive discourse of its own! If you have any questions or comments, please either submit your questions to the Voluntourist newsletter, or e-mail Stephen Wearing (Stephen.Wearing@uts.edu.au) or Nancy McGehee (firstname.lastname@example.org). We’d love to hear from you!
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>>>
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