Share Your Mistakes – Who’s Game?

I’d love to run a series on biggest mistakes – who’s brave enough to share? The best way to learn it seems to me is often to fail and then take away from the situation some real knowledge on improvement. So here’s my challenge to you all: Share a mistake, a blunder and what you learned from it in the comments section.

If we want to improve the industry we have to start be admitting our faults and learning from them.

My bet? PEPY and Geovisions will be among the first to share.

Pulse of the Voluntourism Industry – Survey Comments

Since many of you are traveling and it’s been hard to get final numbers for everyone I thought I’d at least release a selection of comments that people sent in with their surveys. There’s a lot of good feedback in here.

– The volunteer travel industry still has a long way to go – although it’s not the “wild west” like before, there is still a lot of maturing that needs to take place.  We are happy with the progress however.  Makes everyone’s life easier.  Consumers, Players(senders/receivers) and press are finally starting to “get it.”

– We were fortunate to have met our recruiting goal for this year. We think that since students are having trouble finding short-term jobs they are looking to enhance their resumes by pursuing volunteer opportunities.

– You need good accounting and cost controls, solid program staff who can execute your plan, good communications so volunteers can feel good about what they have accomplished, plus dedicated volunteers and donors.

– We have been growing very quickly up until this year, which has essentially been flat. We are being careful about spending and being more strategic in our outreach efforts.

– I conducted five months of researching before starting Edge of Seven and the most valuable insight that I gained, after spending day after day with active volunteers, is that community need is the most important variable of any volunteer experience.  While there are certainly many logistics to juggle when planning a project, if the need isn’t there, volunteers will ultimately be disappointed.

– I most certainly think the economy is having an impact on our business.  It is totally upside down.  We set 4 year records this past January and February, when we of course expected to be slow.  In April and May when we expected to be really up, we were flat and in June down, down, down.  In 2009 I think the economy worked in our favor.  In 2010, although we are sitting at 10% ahead of last year, my gut says things are getting worse and the economy has most certainly worked against us.  If not in lower numbers, in the timing of apps (upside down from previous years), length of stay (spending) and 90% of the volunteers pay their fee within 5 days of departure.  Some even when they are on program and we are prepared to take that risk.

One question you did not ask, is how agencies who come out advertising $160 “come-ons” have impacted GeoVisions.  My answer would be that they have negatively impacted the entire industry.  We know costs have increased.  Not just what a receiver wants to be paid.  But Passports are now more expensive, or they will be in 2 weeks.  Airfares are higher.  In-country costs have increased.  U.S. taxes are higher.  Our rent will go up 5% here at the office.  Online marketing is extraordinarily high and it is now a must.  So my concern is this:  If costs are up and a few organizations come in and price out programs below cost, that is not recession.  That is depression.  If volunteering numbers are up, I’d bet my next paycheck the chief reason is lower pricing.  With some of these orgs, that pricing is below cost to gain market share.  It is wrong-brain thinking that if you sell at or below cost, you can get positive cash flow with quantity.  That exercise has NEVER been sustainable in any business, and it damages an industry.  Exactly the same as when they sell at 500% above cost.  Same thing, only in reverse.

You can’t sustain an industry by competing in price, anyway.

What have we done to counteract the effects of the recession?  We have kept people’s hours back.  We have cancelled raises.  We have not had to make any employee cuts, thank God.  We have asked our partners to come up with “fall and winter” pricing, with the promise of bringing back the old pricing in the spring and summer.  That allows us to reduce our fees with responsibility and sustainability.  We have grown our conversation programs in very unique areas, not just teaching to a family but including teaching tourist bureaus, guides, tourist police, in national parks, etc.

Location, Location, Location?

Richard Edwards of Planeterra recently did an interesting interview for the Responsible Travel blog, one of his comments struck a particular chord with me and I wanted to throw it out to everyone.

How much does a project’s location dictate how successful it is? Here is his quote, “We have been less successful when asking travelers to projects that aren’t on routes that are visited during tours, even though the project may be doing important and worthwhile work.”

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Anyone done anything to help generate volunteers in truly off the beaten track locations?

Richard Edwards