Welcome to VoluntourismGal.com. We are a group of like-minded women dedicated to international volunteering. We have volunteered abroad, worked in the field and are committed to voluntourism and its role in making the world a better place.

As we look to relaunch this blog we wanted to first understand better the current state of affairs in the industry.  We have reached out to a handful of larger international volunteer providers to hear their take on the state of the industry.

Here is a brief summary of what we heard:

Volunteer Placement Organizations Struggling

Without exception our conversations focused mostly on the downturn in volunteer numbers.  One organization cited a decline of over 50% in placements.  This was attributed to the economy, changes in travel type (increase in internships and working abroad), and also the ability of in country smaller NGOs to effectively recruit volunteers.

Trend Towards Partnering With Local Organizations

The traditional goal for many voluntourism organizations was to create their own local infrastructure, hire their own local staff and create and control their own local projects. This model is expensive and as one director told us “Local organizations can do a better job with greater community buy in and it’s more affordable.”  The cost savings seems to be the biggest motivating factor for those organizations who have moved from homegrown projects to local partners.

Cost is a Factor

The one organization who told us they had marginal growth in 2012 and this year provides a low-cost program.  Organizations have been more focused on partnering with fundraising resources and offering discounts based on financial needs. While the economy has been stalled for several years some providers feel that the past two years in particular have demonstrated a latent impact from years of a challenging economy.

Word of Mouth

Real world marketing still trumps online marketing for the majority of the providers.  Word of mouth referrals are still the most reliable and highest efficiency leads.  The online referral websites provide traffic and leads but continue to represent a minority of actual participants.

Diversification

Two providers are focused on diversifying quickly. Nervous about the state of volunteering abroad and the possible timeline for recovery has led at least two of our interviewees to create new programs including study and volunteer abroad.

Proliferation of Organizations

Several organizations discussed the effects of the number of new providers and competition as a negative factor. The barrier to entry is very low and almost any motivated volunteer alum can create a new organization quickly.  The concern was the quality of the new providers and the spreading of a shrinking market across more providers.

We are going to look more deeply into these issues in the coming posts. What are you experiencing?  If your numbers are down, what are the causes?  Are their any influences we didn’t mention?

Voluntourismgal is currently undergoing some cosmetic updates and will return shortly with a team of voluntourismgal(s) ready to take on the issues in our field and share the latest news. Stay tuned.

This is Voluntourism Gal, Signing Off

It’s been a great few years running this blog, we’ve had some great debates and some awesome issues brought up. My life is just more adventure travel and my horse business now and this blog is something I’m struggling to maintain. The industry deserves more than that. This blog has a captive audience and it needs someone to run it that can actively be involved everyday – Sarah has been a gigantic help in keeping the blog going and THANK YOU for that.

Alas, it is time to say goodbye to @VoluntourismGal. Aidan will be taking over the blog and the Twitter account and is excited to bring a new perspective to the voluntourism scene. I wish her all the best and to everyone who has read this blog over the years, joined debates and supported the cause…. THANK YOU! It’s been quite a ride.

Alexia

Mental Health Disclosures by Volunteers

Our friends in the Amongst Us group on LinkedIn (which you should join if you direct a volunteer abroad program—email me for an invitation if you’re not a member yet) started a discussion recently about mental health disclosures by volunteers, and I wanted to open it up here as well.

As a volunteer applies for your program, how do you—or do you at all—require them to disclose mental health conditions or history? And how do you work with those volunteers who encounter related issues while abroad?

So far the comments have varied on the types of disclosure required (either by the volunteer himself or from a doctor or therapist), but a common thread in the discussion is that regardless of the process, there always will be some exceptional, rare cases that arise once the volunteer is in the field.

From my perspective, we saw this in Peace Corps as well. With a six- to nine-month average application with the majority of time spent on evaluating mental and physical well-being, we had arguably one of the most stringent application processes out there. Even so, we still had the occasional trainee decide “This absolutely is not for me,” and head home even before swearing in. And we had the occasional volunteer who’d decide the same thing months or even more than a year into service.

So friends: have any thoughts on the topic? How do you try to ensure your volunteers and programs are well matched—either before or during service?

“Voluntour” Your Way Around the World for a Year, All Expenses Paid, for a Six-Figure Salary as Jauntaroo’s Chief World Explorer

What do you think of this contest? It’s something the BBC tried to do years ago and had no success, a couple other companies tried to do something similar and got some big PR bang for it.  Does it attract the right audience to voluntourism? What is the ‘right’ audience?

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New York, NY – (NewMediaWire) – August 22, 2013 – Forbes Magazine called it “possibly the best job ever”.  Condé Nast Traveler said it’s “probably the best job of all time.”  Travel website Jauntaroo is seeking a Chief World Explorer (CWE) to travel the globe for one-year and receive a $100,000 salary to share the experiences along the way through online webisodes and social media.

The itinerary is expected to comprise as many as 50 destinations, including Berlin, Calistoga, Costa Navarino, Fort Worth, the Maldives, Nassau-Paradise Island and St. Lucia.  Applications close September 15, 2013.

Entries are welcome from anywhere in the world. However, the successful applicant must speak and write English fluently as well as be at least 18 years old.  Within the last week, the CWE job posting has received media coverage from places as far afield as Israel, Romania and Macedonia.

“This is simply the best job in and around the world,” said Tom Wilson, Jauntaroo’s Chief Commercial Officer.  “But it’s not just beach walks and Mai Tais. We’re committed to environmental awareness and sustainable tourism so the successful CWE candidate must also give back to the destinations he or she visits.  We call it ‘VolunTourism,’ which might include harvest picking, keeping beaches clean, or learning about reef preservation. Even a few hours of time can help make a difference.”

Jauntaroo, who call themselves “vacation matchmakers,” will be utilizing their matchmaking skills to find the right cultural fit for the role.  Energy and enthusiasm are a plus.

Applicants must apply at Jauntaroo.com by posting a 60-second video explaining why they should be chosen.  Family and friends can show support by “liking” candidates’ profiles and videos. Jauntaroo will announce the top 50 candidates and the final five will be invited to in-person interviews.

Jauntaroo already donates $1 for each booking made through their site to “Travel With A Cause,” its philanthropic initiative supporting nonprofit organizations dedicated to education, health, well-being and, of course, VolunTourism.  With their hire of the CWE role, the company is stepping up its efforts to make giving back a consideration for world travelers.

Each destination hosting the successful applicant will nominate their own program of VolunTourism activities.  Whenever the destination does not outline a program, Jauntaroo will rely on sources like its partner Live Different to recommend activities during the visit.

“We’re so proud to partner with Jauntaroo as they find their intrepid world traveler, heightening awareness of sustainable tourism in the process,” said Christal Earle, Co-Founder of Live Different.  “Our program, Hero Holiday, provides opportunities for youth to get involved in building infrastructure to strengthen some of the communities we sometimes only think of as leisure travel destinations.  Voluntourism benefits everyone involved, turning a great vacation into a meaningful, life long experience.”

Read the whole release here

New Adventure Tourism Report Reveals $263B Market, Up 65% Per Annum Since 2009

Yes, voluntourism is part of the adventure travel market, stop thinking we are separate because the lines have blurred. Impressive growth.

Seattle, WA –  Growth in the adventure travel market has accelerated at a 65 percent yearly rate since 2009 according to the newly released Adventure Tourism Market Study – a consumer report by The George Washington University (GW) conducted in partnership with the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA, www.adventuretravel.biz).

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The 2013 Adventure Tourism Market Study uses the same methodology and approach as the 2010 study allowing for direct comparison between the studies and growth trend analysis. It included three key outbound regions: Europe, North America and South America. These regions account for nearly 70 percent of overall international departures, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The study estimates the value of the global outbound adventure travel sector to be US$263 billion, excluding airfare, up from US$89 billion first reported in the benchmark consumer study. When this US$263 billion is combined with the estimated $82 billion spent for related gear, apparel and accessories, adventure travelers spent more than $345 billion in 2012 for travel related to adventure.

“Adventure tourism’s steep climb is attributed to growth in the global tourism industry, a significant increase in the percentage of adventure travelers, and an increase in the average amount spent per adventure travel trip,” said ATTA President Mr. Shannon Stowell. “This comes as positive news, of course, and reinforces the ATTA community’s rising commitment to safety, education, training and development of innovative and culturally and environmentally sound travel options. As we watch adventure travel tourism grow it is imperative that we continue to provide travelers with transformative experiences, all while helping to protect and respect the very people and places visited.”

Have a read of the whole article here.

And make sure to check out this great infographic!

ResponsibleTravel.com Temporarily Removes Orphanage Volunteering from Listings

Just saw this post fly by–ResponsibleTravel.com has temporarily removed orphanage travel programs from its listings. From their blog:

The removal of trips is a temporary measure, whilst, over the coming weeks we work with industry leaders to develop best practice guidelines and criteria for the child-focussed volunteer trips we offer via responsibletravel.com.

We want to ensure we only market volunteer trips that we have 100% trust in and that, as a community of responsible operators, we are leading the way and raising standards around best practice in this industry. We hope that by being independently created, the new criteria will help sustain the exemplary operators while removing those that may potentially tarnish the sector.

You can read more about the decision here. Be sure to scroll down to the comments as well, where there’s some lively discussion going on.

To our volunteer trip provider friends—whether you send volunteers overseas or host them in your own community—and especially those who offer orphanage programs, what steps have you taken to continually evaluate those placements? Have your practices changed in recent years or months?

And to those of you who receive requests for partnership from orphanages, how do you respond?