Voluntourism & Kenya?

A friend recently asked me to help her find a voluntourism trip to Kenya, I thought this would be pretty straight forward but it wasn’t. I remember that Kenya used to be one of the most popular destinations for voluntourism before the 2008 riots and was shocked that I really had a hard time to find operators that were offering trips to Kenya now.

I think that brings up a good question: How soon after a disaster (whether natural or political) should we send volunteers back into a country? Haven’t you, as an operator, made a commitment to support that local community? What effect does political instability have on bookings and in turn your financial commitment to the community?

What is your company’s policy? How do you maintain a sustainable presence during unstable times?

Some food for thought, a friend, Sarah Fazendin, who is my local expert on all things Kenya wrote this little blurb for me:
After the post-election crisis back in 2008, the Kenyan tourism industry came together, put travelers needs first and put their own needs and the profitability of their companies second. Not one single tourist was put into harms way during the short period of isolated post-election violence back in 2008. The Kenyan tourism industry should be recognized and applauded for how brilliantly they handled this situation. But despite these efforts what followed was one of the worst years for tourism on record in 2008 for the country as a result of this brief incident in early 2008, followed by the global economic crisis in 2009.  But again Kenya should be recognized for their efforts, instead of slashing prices and eroding the strong brand of luxury many companies there had taken years to establish, we saw companies taking this time to refurbish properties, train staff and continue to enhance their products. Today, Kenya remains the home of the classic African safari and has more to offer travelers in terms of diversity of product and wildlife an perhaps any other country in Africa. The country is safe, stable and positive changes continue to be made. As in all African countries, it’s important to travel with a reputable tour operator who is connected to the flying doctors and the tourism police unit and should any issue arise ,and ensure that travelers will be quickly and efficiently looked after, which was excited so well back in early 2008.

From a vountourism perspective, there is still much need in Kenya, both in the cities and in rural areas, and since the country has such a well developed tourism infrastructure the opportunities for voluntourism are great.

Voluntourism & Travel Agents?

I recently had a travel agent ask me which voluntourism operators gave commission to agents and to be honest I didn’t have an answer for her. Traditionally working with travel agents seemed too ‘mainstream’ and commercial for such a niche section of the travel market – but things have changed.

As more and more stories are written up in outlets like CNN and the NY Times travelers are now asking their travel agents for volunteer vacation information, if you’re not offering commission to agents I think you’re missing a very obvious recruitment channel.

I know Cross Cultural Solutions doesn’t offer commissions and i-to-i does (or used to) – so where does your company stand?

Teach for the World Program – More Realistic than BBC?

For those of you who missed it Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times recently wrote an article putting forth what I think is a great idea to move international volunteering forward.

Here’s a brief snippet,

“In my mind, Teach for the World would be a one-year program placing young Americans in schools in developing countries. The Americans might teach English or computer skills, or coach basketball or debate teams.

The program would be open to Americans 18 and over. It could be used for a gap year between high school and college, but more commonly would offer a detour between college and graduate school or the real world.

The host country would provide room and board through a host family. To hold down costs, the Americans would be unpaid and receive only airplane tickets, a local cellphone and a tiny stipend to cover bus fares and anti-malaria bed nets.

This would be a government-financed effort to supplement an American public diplomacy outreach that has been eviscerated over the last few decades. A similar program, WorldTeach, was founded by a group of Harvard students in 1986 and does a terrific job. But without significant support from the American government, it often must charge participants thousands of dollars for a year’s volunteer work.

Teach for the World also would be an important education initiative for America itself. Fewer than 30 percent of Americans have passports, and only one-quarter can converse in a second language. And the place to learn languages isn’t an American classroom but in the streets of Quito or Dakar or Cairo.” To read the full article click here.

The Building Bridges Coalition’s goals are:

1. To improve the quality of international volunteer service
2. To scale up the number of international volunteers sent abroad annually
3. To maximize positive impacts of international service in communities throughout the world, and at home

…and there also was a goal to double the number of people volunteering internationally by 2010 which as far as I know was not reached.

How can we as an industry adapt Kristof’s idea to utilize the BBC’s membership to actually increase the number of volunteers and in doing so make a bigger difference??

Let’s start the debate!