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VT Cast #22: Small Destinations & VolunTourism


How are small destinations using the power of Volun-Tourism to draw individuals to their destinations? How can VolunTourism support the "off-season"? How are com-munities getting involved in making VolunTourism possible? And what can VolunTourists expect when they visit these smaller destinations? Guests address these topics and discuss others during this episode of The VolunTourist.

Copyright © Bayfield Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Bureau, All Rights Reserved

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Past Webcast - January 22, 2008

Research Forum

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Robert D. Billington, Ed.D, President, Blackstone Valley Tourism Council [Bio]; Todd Russell, Youth Director, Church of Christ at Milan [Bio]; Kristen Sandstrom, Marketing & Events Manager, Bayfield Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Bureau [Bio]; Greg Tehven, Co-Founder, Students Today Leaders Forever [Bio].


[Is it difficult to identify a unique event, activity, or feature of a destination to draw voluntourists to participate and support that event, activity, or feature?]

"I think probably anywhere in the world, it can be done, David. As Kristen said, I think it is about creating the event, creating the marketing plan to do it, creating the infrastructure that allows you to support the effort - the voluntourism effort. But it's really being resourceful. And, you know, we're all, people in my industry are interested in how do we support a community, how do we develop a community, grow it in a way that's good for the people that live there. What reasons can we create for people to travel here.

And I have to do some searching now, because I think, obviously it's a success for Kristen, for whatever reason, she's built it into a success, a good percentage of the people that are going to help out are voluntourists. I want to know more about how she did that. Where are the voluntourists coming from? How long is there experience? Maybe, how - - - how did she outreach to do that? And I need to do more researching on my end to find that cool - - you know dog-sledding sounds very, it sounds great! I've never done it; I don't know anything about it; I've never actually even seen it. But I need to think about what we can do here (The Blackstone Valley), and Kristen might be able to answer some of those questions for me." Robert D. Billington

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[What role did your faith-based community play in making voluntourism possible in small destination like Milan, Indiana?]

"Really what we became was a facilitator for that trip and I think our natural position in the community is kind of to reach out to the community, we hold a lot of different types of things that are community-based - a festival we have each year in the Fall and different things like that. So it just fit well when they (STLF) contacted us to be someone who could reach out to our community and try to organize and set that up.

And it was kind of neat for us, it was something new; but the first thing we did was probably just like anyone else would do, we set up a committee and delegated the different tasks of going to the local Town Board, of going to the School Board, so that we could house forty kids in the gymnasium, and we contacted our local media outlets and we went around and solicited for local donations and just tried to get the entire community involved and really what was happening and how excited we were about it. And so, I just think it was a natural fit for us and again the fact that these were kids coming from college and some of the kids, I think, were from high school at the time, to come and join with our youth group who primarily was high school kids and it was just a real, a real convenient fit for us.

So again, it was just nice for us to be able to, to kind of have a learning experience there for us - to put the committee together, to try to organize, try to figure out what it is that a group has to do to have a group come in like that." Todd Russell

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[On finding that little event that works for your destination...]

"I think it is very important to find that one little thing that will draw the interest. I mean that is, that's marketing something. And, you know, sled-dog racing, for our example, is certainly unique, but people don't even realize how much work is put into it. As Todd said, there are tons of reasons to visit somewhere. You can go to Milan (Indiana) to visit the Hoosiers' trophy, or you can go to Rhode Island to go to Newport, people come to Bayfield (Wisconsin) to go kayaking, or visit the Apostle Islands, or go sailing. It's always a Summer destination for a traditional vacation and it's great when you can find that little unique thing that's going to bring people in for a different reason.

We get people all the time that say, 'Gosh this is, what a friendly people you have here and man it would be so great to do something more than just take a boat tour.' I think, you find that little event and just get it out there and say, 'Come Help Us!' And for our first time doing this, we have thirteen participants. And knowing that we have about a hundred volunteers, thirteen of which are paying to be here, to help us, I think that's an amazing success. We're looking at doing it for other things.

Bayfield is an "eco-municipality" - we try to live as sustainable a lifestyle as possible here. To get people involved in helping cleaning up some of our hiking trails, or things like that - turn it into an event; turn it into a festival per se, or what have you - and publicize it, and I think it makes it a much bigger success." Kristen Sandstrom

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[What trend do you see voluntourists really wanting to be a part of that will be the most appropriate for a destination?]

"I work with an age group - probably age 12 to 25, is the age group I work with - and there seems to be two types of voluntourists. One wants that results-oriented project - they want to see the food stacked in a food bank, they want to see that result, they want to watch how many tires that they've pulled out of the river stack up and pile up. So they want to see the result.

On the second token, there's the connected-to-the-community type of voluntourist. Somebody that wants to have that interaction - a nursing home, meeting a young child. And so we try to focus all of our projects on one of those two areas.

Now, there's a gap in between which is the environment, where you're connected to nature. And we've watched as some of our students find value in that, but I would say the majority of our students want to either see the results or have a personal connection. And we try to focus our efforts on those two places." Greg Tehven

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Guest Bios

Robert D. Billington, Ed.D, President, Blackstone Valley Tourism Council


Tuesdays 10am ET/7am PT

Robert Billington grew up in the Blackstone River Valley of Rhode Island.  He was trained and worked as a cabinetmaker in the family business in the river community of Pawtucket. After six years in the US Coast Guard he pursued his college education at Johnson & Wales University. He has always been an entrepreneur and has developed several businesses. He takes special pride in his work to bring the tourism to America's first industrial region: the Blackstone River Valley.

His effort to create numerous public/private partnerships has been a key factor in the success of tourism planning and development in the Blackstone Valley. He founded the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council in 1985 following the Blackstone Valley Factory Outlet Association in 1982. He was a co-founder of the Cumberland Historic District Commission. In 1992 he developed Rhode Island's first regional comprehensive tourism development plan. It is still in use today. Through the years he has worked with the National Park Service to develop the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor.

In 2000 Billington assisted in the development of a 12,000 square foot Visitor Center. Billington works on the development of Main Streets throughout the Blackstone Valley and is currently working on river access in several urban locations along the Blackstone River.

His interest in community development, job creation, pride of place and education have all come together under the non-profit agency he has lead for 20 years: the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council. He has a strong interest in international tourism and has created partnerships to encourage tourism between foreign countries and the Blackstone River Valley.

Billington has presented at conferences in the US, England, Scotland and Hong Kong. He has been a guest of the Taiwanese and Brazilian Governments due to his interest in tourism development. He has taught as an Adjunct Professor at Johnson & Wales University Graduate program. He has recently completed his Doctorate in Educational Leadership. His ultimate goal is to develop an experiential, graduate level, tourism planning and development program to be taught in the Blackstone River Valley.

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Todd Russell, Youth Director, Church of Christ at Milan

Todd has been serving as a Youth Director for the Milan Church of Christ youth group, FOUNd, since January 2005. In addition, he has taught the teen boy’s Sunday school and preached on Sunday mornings in the absence of Shawn McMullen. Todd is a graduate of Indiana University with a bachelor’s degree in Business Management. He has been an Aflac representative since 1995. He believes his experience with Aflac has been God’s way of preparing him for work in ministry. “It has not only given me practice with public speaking, but has taught me the value of serving others.” Todd says that serving at Milan has strengthened his own faith, while giving him many opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. Todd feels the most important decision a person will make in his/her lifetime is the decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. And the most important thing a person can do in his/her lifetime is to give someone else the opportunity to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. No other decision or task a person does will compare to those two things when this life is over and we enter eternity.

Scripture’s that summarize Todd’s mission statement:

Matthew 6:33

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Proverbs 16:3

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.

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Kristen Sandstrom, Marketing & Events Manager, Bayfield Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Bureau

Kristen Sandstrom is the Marketing and Events Manager for the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Bureau.  Kristen is fairly new to the position, but not new to Bayfield.  "This is a community that I grew up visiting, and a place that I am so proud to call home."  Kristen was an English major at Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin, and has been managing people and events for over 10 years.  Kristen manages and coordinates over 12 different community events throughout the course of the year.  These range from bringing Santa Claus to the mainland every year for the children in the communities to planning the annual Apple Festival which brings in excess of 45,000 visitors every year.

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Greg Tehven, Co-Founder, Students Today Leaders Forever

Originally from West Fargo, ND, Greg Tehven was active in high school. He held many leadership roles in various organizations including President of his Student Council, Founder of Fellowship of Christian Athletes at his high school and Vice President of North Dakota’s National Honor Society. He entered the University of Minnesota as a freshman with big ideas. 10 days into his college career, he launched a vision with three friends to change the world.

These four students worked to create a Pay It Forward Tour, a service project on wheels. In just four years, the organization, Students Today Leaders Forever, has grown from one bus of 43 people serving 5 communities to over 1,600 participants serving over 180 communities across the country. During the 2007-2008 school year, STLF will send out 45 Pay It Forward Tours with 1,800 students in one year!

After his graduation from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management in just 3 ½ years, he has decided to continue working with STLF as a full time employee. Tehven’s role has been in growth and expansion. He has traveled the country speaking to high school, college and junior high students sharing his passion for service. Tehven serves on the wisdom council for Voluntourism, is the advisor of the Metro Student Council Ambassadors of Fargo Moorhead and volunteers with the Moorhead Healthy Community Initiative. His personal mission statement is simple: To challenge, inspire and encourage young people to live a life of excellence.

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