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May 2005 - Wisdom & Insight
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The VolunTourist™ is a premium Newsletter for the Travel Trade. For those interested in discovering what is happening in the world of VolunTourism and seeking emerging practices, general information, and case studies, this is your Source.

Wisdom & Insight

Here is this month's inquiry:

Hi Guys,

My name is Nick Ascot, and my company is North by North-East Tours (Thai/Lao)  www.north-by-north-east.com

This year I attended the seminar at the ETC in Wash DC, where I believe I met Mr. Clemmons.

I still have a question I wish to explore with others in this
community.

Our volun-tours vary greatly in content according to guest demographic. We see two types of volun-tourists. First are folks coming to a destination ONLY for a volun-tour. Second are those who require just a limited element of volun-tourism in their holiday.

The first group presents few problems: Groups of engaged college students volunteer in remote destinations on project-based jobs for several weeks
or more.  Such groups rarely have problems adapting to observe social mores of the community etc.  Any difficulty we encountered with these groups we solved.  Simply, we've always operated such groups to the satisfaction & benefit of the local community, the guests themselves (and to ourselves, although profits were necessarily quite small).

The second group is more problematic....

Since we agree that social interaction between guest and local people must be MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL AND RESPECTFUL, clearly it is more challenging to create appropriate volun-tour product for the high-end alumni group' demographic.  These guests are paying top dollar for streamlined access to the destination and its culture. Using 4-5 star accommodation, trips will include a variety of activities and will cover a large geographic area. This demographic needs "1 day volunteer activities"  or "1/2 day VT activities".

WEEKLY WEBCAST

Tuesdays 10am ET/7am PT

Working as we do with orphanages & slum orgs; gibbon, elephant and other wildlife sanctuaries, we can usually find/create activities to fulfill the guests' needs in 1/2 to a full day (or two).  But the challenge is to insure the work is meaningful to the intended beneficiaries, be they human or animal or plant.

Hopefully I have outlined the problem sufficiently for you to answer with your own ideas, or open this question for discussion in your site.

1. How do other firms handle this?  

2. What about national tourism orgs?

3. Have you seen any guidelines to this effects?  

4. Can you show some examples of guidelines or what others do?

Best Regards,

Nick Ascot
Director
North by North-East
Thailand & Laos

Answer #1:

The key to VolunTourism for Tour Operators is to determine what is possible within the framework in which you currently operate. As you see in this month's "Outbound VolunTourism Feature," Tauck World Discovery (TWD) used a very simple approach by incorporating a day of volunteering into their existing tour.

Outrigger Hotel & Resorts created a very simple project for VolunTourists to connect with a local park near the resort. In next month's newsletter we will go into detail on this particular project.

The point is not to try and create something, but to find a natural niche that flows with what you already provide to your clients as a VolunTourism experience. The work will always be beneficial in some respect because of the nature of the services rendered - relief work, charitable support, or community development.

The way to determine whether your efforts have impact and are mutually beneficial is to select a recipient group that balances with the service that your clients can provide. If they are unskilled volunteers, make sure you select a project and a population that can be benefited by those who are unskilled. But remember that any population can be served by skilled or unskilled persons; it is simply a matter of assessing the needs of the destination prior to plugging your VolunTourists into the equation and matching them accordingly.

Partnership is also something that can assist you in your efforts. Speak with NGO's and other development organizations that operate in your destination. Let them know of your goals and objectives and speak to them about your desire to create VolunTourism products and services. They will be able to assist you in developing a model that is mutually beneficial.

Answer #2:

To date, national tourism organizations are not addressing VolunTourism. Quite possibly, in the near future, some of the countries that were impacted by the 2004 Tsunami will focus attention on developing VolunTourism as a strategy for drawing VolunTourists to their region. But VolunTourism will likely remain an effort of tour operators and NGO's - either singly or collectively.

Answer #3:

There are no guidelines from the tourism industry regarding VolunTourism in destinations. However, we are beginning to discuss the possibilities of VolunTourism as a socio-economic development tool with community development organizations and other NGO's. This will open the door to greater incentive for the tourism industry to adopt guidelines on how VolunTourism can play a mutually beneficial role for residents and the destination as well as for visitors.

Answer #4:

If you take a look at the "Supply Chain" section in each month's newsletter, you will see that we make every effort to highlight operators and NGO's that are conducting activities that we see as fundamental models worthy of replication.

Relief Riders International (RRI), which we feature in this month's "Supply Chain," is an excellent example of what is possible. RRI starts with assessing the needs of the destination and its residents. This is paramount in delivering a product that serves on all levels for all constituents and stakeholders.

But you can also select one cause or issue to support through VolunTourism. Los Ninos, for example, has selected education, health, and ecology as the primary focus of its VolunTourism efforts. Participants will either conduct activities that help to expand schools, or create recreational areas for children and families, or support the improvement of the environment.

It really makes a difference when a tour operator selects a cause that is truly a "need" for the destination and determines that as an operator this cause will be the focus of their VolunTourism efforts. Naturally, this may also connect with corporate philanthropy and social responsibility depending upon the unique approach of the operator.

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