Something Scott Gilmore recently wrote seems to be ringing true with a lot of operators I have talked to recently; “You get what you pay for. Volunteer staff are never as effective as paid employees. Yes, please, regale me with tales of the group down at the local church who get together every other Sunday to sew dresses for poor African girls. But let me ask you this: If you lived in earthquake country, would you rather your kids went to class in a school built by volunteers, or one built by certified, paid professionals?”
Companies that send volunteers abroad have told me that their numbers are down YOY, some are even thinking of shutting doors altogether – where do you stand?
Let’s first look at what has contributed to this possible decline:
- Market saturation
- Price competition
- Bad projects were created resulting in negative media about voluntourism, there are no more fluffy stories out there
- Disintermediation (it’s happening with adventure travel as well) – volunteers are still going abroad in droves they are just booking directly with the project and not using an intermediary.
My take? I think that the number of people going abroad to volunteer is always on the rise, but I think the number that are going direct versus going through a company has dramatically increased. You have an ethically minded traveler to begin with, and if they can leave all of their money in Nepal versus 50% of it in a marketing office in New York, I think travelers are leaning towards that option. We have seen this trend in adventure travel for the last few years and now I think it is starting to happen to voluntourism.