Having been a part of the volunteer and adventure travel industries for awhile now one thing seems quite apparent to me, most adventure companies that try to sell voluntourism flat out fail (Intrepid is the latest example). But why?
I have consulted on the adventure side for a lot of these companies and peeked my nose into their volunteer product marketing. I see the appeal on their side to merge into voluntourism, similar customer, interactive cultural experience, similar price range – should be an easy transition, but it’s not. Here are some observations on why they fail.
1. They use sales staff instead of ‘advisors’.
Someone looking to volunteer needs more guidance than someone looking to book a Machu Picchu trek. They need to understand the work they will do, the value they will bring, where their money will go and how they will cope with the language/cultural barrier without a group of peers or guide, etc. (to name a few).
The companies that have simply added voluntourism into the product offering and expected the same adventure sales team to sell it have definitely failed.
2. They don’t provide fundraising information.
How many times have potential volunteers called your company and complained that they can’t afford it but would love to volunteer abroad? The majority of volunteer organizations have a ready made solution to hand out for this dilemma, adventure companies are blind sided and lose the lead.
3. The marketing message.
All too often voluntourism experiences are portrayed as yet another adventure, or even worse, an add on. True voluntourists need to believe they are genuinely making a difference and somehow the ‘2 day pet the orphans’ option doesn’t appeal. The marketing needs to not only cover the experience but the circumstances surrounding it.
4. The target market.
Adventure companies are dominated by the 35-55 customer, voluntourists are still mainly 18-25. There is a discrepancy in the marketing and messaging that appeals to each of these customer segments.
5. Profit vs. Non-Profit
This debate rages forever and I can hear a couple of you reading this and cracking your knuckles ready for a reply but needless to say… All adventure companies are for profit, most volunteer companies are non-profit, the perception that volunteering through a non-profit is better still remains.
I could go forever on this and will in a part two blog post, but just wanted to throw this out there and see what comments we drive up.