Research Project Seeks Voluntourists!

Dr. Jess Pointing is doing research on the transformative effects of voluntourism, if you want to help send this survey on to past travelers and let’s see what sort of results we get.

Did your volunteer experience transform you? That’s the question being asked by Dr. Jess Pointing, Assistant Professor of Sustainable Tourism at San Diego State University.

There is just one question. You may write as much or as little as you wish.

Think about your volunteer tourism experience and ask if you think it has changed you in some way.  This could mean changes in the way you see yourself, changes in the way that other people see you, or changes in how you see the world generally.  Don’t rush your answer.  Take some time and think back to your experience and consider whether the person who has returned is in some way different from the one prior to departure.  When you have reflected on this and thought of something, please describe it in as much detail as possible.  You might begin by describing a specific event and then following up with an analysis of how it changed you.  Describe as many events and personal reactions as you feel are meaningful from your experience.

Please send your response directly to : jess.ponting@sdsu.edu

The information you provide will be analyzed and used as the basis for a major academic journal article. Your response will remain anonymous, you will not be identified in any way in published materials resulting from the study. You are free to withdraw from this research at any time without explanation. If you have any questions please direct them to Dr. Jess Ponting, jess.ponting @ sdsu.edu,  Ph: 619 594 8499.

Free Brand Monitoring Tools

With the rise of social media your brand is being talked about more than ever before, how are you engaging and listening to those conversations? If someone is complaining about their trip do you know about it? If so are you addressing it? You should be otherwise you’ll be looking at media coverage like the recent Guardian article.

Here are some tools I love using:

Google Alerts (oldie but goodie)

BoardTracker.com (to monitor discussion boards and forums)

Twitter Search

Backtype (to monitor blog comments)

Technorati (monitor blogs)

Another Voluntourism Bashing Article

Articles like this hopefully help operators reflect on the quality and sustainability of their projects. Real Gap and i-to-i, to name a couple, get called out – what have you done to ensure one traveler’s bad trip doesn’t end up as front page news?

Frances Jaine was going to Thailand for her gap year with a friend. She had worked for months to save funds, and took care to book the trip with a firm that specialised in organising volunteering abroad.

“We hadn’t travelled without our parents before, and southeast Asia was a long way away,” she said.

The idea was that Jaine, then 19, and her friend would help out in a school in a remote Thai village for a month. They wanted to do something positive on their travels, rather than just loll around on a beach.

When they arrived they were in for a shock. They learnt that they were supposed to teach Thai culture, for which they were not obviously well equipped. “We ended up just doing drawing most of the time,” recalled Jaine last week, now 21 and a student at Leeds University.

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Worse, the school closed every day at lunchtime and Jaine and her friend were left with nothing to do. There was no sign of the local travel rep, who, it was promised, would guide them in local customs.

So just two weeks into their contracts they left the village. It was a bitter disappointment. Not so much for the money they had wasted — they had paid the firm £750 each to sort out the placement — but for the sense that they had been no help at all in the village.

Each year some 200,000 young people undertake gap-year projects, spending on average about £4,000 each. Many are drawn to “voluntourism” — a specimen of well-meaning travel that also attracted princes William and Harry.

The government recently announced plans to send hundreds of new graduates on similar trips — with the additional effect of keeping them off benefits in recession-hit times. These taxpayer-funded gappers will help to build schools and improve sanitation in remote communities.

That’s the idea, at least. A Sunday Times investigation has shown that the goodwill of young volunteers is exploited by some companies sending them overseas — and that the work young people carry out while there is increasingly regarded as positively unhelpful.

IF YOU Google “volunteer gap year” the company that comes top of the search is Real Gap, which has seen rapid growth recently and was sold last year to Tui Travel as part of a deal worth £43.8m. Real Gap offers would-be voluntourists projects teaching in schools, raising awareness of Aids, working with orphans, and turtles, and injured wildlife, learning medical skills at a bushman clinic and helping elephants and landowners to live in harmony.

The projects offered by other companies are similar. They appear attractive, but people who sign up are not infrequently disappointed.

Sarah Byrnes went with Real Gap to an orphanage in Thailand in 2006. The firm’s reps, she says, had promised locals that the volunteers would help to rebuild the orphanage and put in water systems. But the volunteers were surprised when the local co-ordinator asked them to contribute £200 towards this.

Read the full article: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/travel/news/article6788628.ece?token=null&offset=0&page=1

Voluntourism Catching On – Early Show with Peter Greenberg

Woo hoo – yet another morning show has covered voluntourism with our great advocate Peter Greenberg. Some of the stats he used to prove that voluntourism is a growing trend came from the very survey you all participated in months ago on the state of the volunteer travel industry. So well done everyone for coming together and providing some stats on the industry. I just got a call from another morning show wanting to feature voluntourism, so woo hoo, here we go!

(CBS) About 100-thousand people each year take vacations focused on volunteer work, and that number is growing.

What’s behind the trend — and might such vacations be for you?

Travel guru Peter Greenberg observed on “The Early Show” Monday that volunteer vacations are one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry.

Despite a tough economy, or maybe because of it, more and more Americans are taking a “volunteer vacation.” Some do it to give back to others, and some do as a result of a sort of indirect guilt trip, feeling it’s not right to spend big bucks on big vacations, so they get their reward through giving back.

YOU SAY THERE IS A VOLUNTEER VACATION OUT THERE TO MEET EVERYONE’S NEEDS. HOW DO WE DEFINE A VOLUNTEER VACATION?

You can dedicate a whole trip to volunteering or you can actually bookend the trip, meaning you can have a regular vacation and then do a few days volunteering at the end of the trip. Working or volunteer vacations are a great way to get a deal on a trip and also make a difference-without having to serve two years in the Peace Corps. Whether it’s helping to save Leatherback sea turtles in Costa Rica, delivering crucial medical supplies to an orphanage in El Salvador, helping to build a hospital in southern Thailand, or helping in the continuing efforts to rebuild the ninth ward in New Orleans nearly four years after hurricane Katrina,each trip allows us to make a real difference while exploring the world, getting immersed in a different culture and even learning a new language

WHY DO YOU THINK THESE TYPES OF VACATIONS ARE SEEING AN UPSWING?

It is one of the fastest growing segments in the travel industry, and despite a tough economy, or perhaps because of it, more and more Americans are opting to travel a little differently this year…they are taking a volunteer vacation. Part of the reasoning, of course, is to give back, to help others. And another driving force behind the growth of volunteer vacations is that they have in essence become a sort of indirect guilt trip — many travelers these days don’t feel right about spending ten solid days at a spa so they bookend their pampering with another kind of feel-good activity — giving back. Also, many of them are tax-deductible.

ARE THEY USUALLY CHEAPER THAN A REGULAR VACATION?

Depending on the organization they can be, but sometime they aren’t……it depends what type of trip you take…you can have some like the Airline Ambassador program which allows you to get most of the same perks that the airline employees get on airfares/hotels and then you have some that are much more high end-like the Earthwatch institute that can end up being quite costly.

WHERE DO YOU SUGGEST PEOPLE GO TO FIND OUT ABOUT THE ORGANIZATIONS THAT SPONSOR THESE TYPES OF VACATIONS?

The first thing to do is Google “volunteer vacations.” Narrow the many that come up based on your own personal interests.

Read the full story: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/08/03/earlyshow/living/travel/main5205891.shtml