Learnings Take Two

Heading back to the US finally, for those of you who haven’t yet been to Norway I can highly recommend it (but maybe go in the summer so you don’t freeze)!

Being here made me wonder why we don’t actively look for volunteer travel destinations in developed countries – I talked with many a farmer, fisherman, school that would love to have volunteers. These people may not be below the poverty line but they are definitely struggling and sending volunteers to a developed country first might make better volunteers when we send them to developing countries afterwards, just a thought…

More learnings from ATWS:

– The airline industry is expected to lose $5.2B this year (ouch): IATA

– Travelers are booking much closer to departure dates, operators are reporting less lead time – advanced bookings are down 5-25% from this time last year

– For the first time online behavior shows that travelers are truly placing a heavy weight on authentic content like blogs, reviews, etc in their purchasing decision

With people worrying about the economy now more than ever how is it effecting travel plans? Adventure Travel customer behaviors/categories:

1. The Passionate Traveler – 1 out of every 10 travelers

The passionate traveler is willing to cut back on other things in order to be able to travel more

2. The Intrepid Traveler – 2 out of every 10 travelers

This segment has doubled in size since 1999 and is very risk tolerant, will not be put off by changing economic conditions

3. The Opportunists – 2.5 out of every 10 travelers

Tend to be male, young and well educated and are more inclined to travel now because of discounts, less crowds, etc.

So basically, there’s hope – let’s not start blaming the economy yet, research shows that volunteer travel is doing well and based on our informal poll of voluntourism providers (the ones that bravely answered) so far we show that 75% of operators are up this year versus last.

Learnings from the Summit in Norway – Take One

What a great (and cold) summit for the adventure travel industry in Norway! Lots of great seminars and research were presented and some fun connections made – I’m still curious why Eartwatch was the onle volunteer travel provider there… Yes folks, volunteer travel really does fall into the adventure travel box and its time we had more of a voice in the Adventure Travel Trade Association, they do great work and we can learn from each other.

I’m still in Norway running around fjords but I wanted to start pushing out some of the great research and trends I learned this week – there is so much I’ll try to push it out in blurbs. I won’t source to the speaker and research as it will get confusing in a blog, but if you’d like to know more just send me an email.

Did you know…..


  • According to Google Travel Trends the amount of people searching for ‘adventure travel’ is accelerating at a faster rate than any other form of travel
  • Paid Adwords/PPC get 20-30% of clicks, while the organic listings get 70-80% of traffic – time to start getting serious about SEO

Volunteer Travel Trends:

  • 4% of the US travel market has taken a volunteer vacation and is growing three times faster than any other travel segment
  • 15M US travelers are interested in taking a volunteer vacation
  • 1 in 5 volunteer travelers had studied abroad before volunteering or had other significant international experience in their early years
  • More than half of the people that volunteer abroad are somehow part of a non-profit or volunteer at home
  • Volunteer travelers are twice as likely as other travelers to be major donors
  • One of main reasons travelers dont take a volunteer vacation is they assume they need building, medical or another specialized skill – looks like the industry needs to take a good look at its messaging if travelers think this!

Great stuff and more to come when my fingers thaw out from the cold Arctic!

Seeking Additional Revenue Streams?

Often in the volunteer vacation world providers (non profits and profits alike) are looking for sources of additional funding, below are a couple options that others have used with success that benefit both the volunteer and the voluntourism company.

  • Partner with a flight provider and earn commission on all flights your participants take. Fly for Good offers humanitarian airfare discounts and will offer the referring voluntourism organization a commission.


  • Partner with a travel insurance carrier, ensure that your clients have a secure trip and have a cancellation policy in case anything comes up. I recommend World Nomads, they donate a portion of the insurance fee to their non-profit arm Footprints, so when volunteers buy insurance they are helping development projects at the same time – its a really nice cycle. Plus they are great to work with and offer a nice commission to help your revenue stream in these uncertain times.

Hope that helps, just a couple of ideas! If you want contact details for either of these organizations just send me a note. Stay tuned early next week for new research on the volunteer market I learned at the Adventure Travel World Summit as well as key industry leaders submitting posts.

Thanks to everyone reading for helping make this blog go from zero to sixty in under a week! I’ll try to only blog once or twice a week so as not to fill your inboxes but enough to still give you posts that are interesting to read.

PS: There is a comment section on the blog, feel free to comment, let’s start getting an industry discussion going.

PPC Position Preference

SEO tends to be a challenge for most voluntourism companies, so we often rely on PPC (or AdWords) to give us a presence on Google until our organic rank can catch up.

The question then becomes what position preference brings the most ROI?

There is a theory that position 1 and 2 get all the ‘curiosity clicks’ and that the eye naturally gravitates to the middle of the page so position 4 is often a favorite (and cheaper), and position 8 is where the mouse lingers before scrolling (so don’t rule that out either).

Just some food for thought…

Differentiating in a Competitive Market

If someone is thinking of starting a voluntourism company these days the market looks awfully crowded. The secret to successfully entering the industry and attracting enough volunteers to make a sustainable difference is differentiation. Find a unique project, target an untraditional demographic, combine volunteering with another activity – all are great possibilities.

Recently we’ve seen the successful launch of Lifetree Adventures, a division of the youth mission trip company Group Workcamps. Lifetree Adventures offers Christian voluntourism – a trip that’s part vacation, part Christian service (no evangelizing). Travelers will participate in traditional sightseeing in addition to volunteering with local communities – the differentiating factor? Christians traveling with Christians, a demographic that has not yet been targeted.

So be daring, have a look at your current product – is there another demographic you could target? Spanish language clubs? Families looking to explore their roots? Seniors that want to go on spring break? Ex-Peace Corps volunteers??