International Voluntourism Guidelines Research Launched

If you’re thinking OH GOD ANOTHER SET OF GUIDELINES then join the club. I first heard about this and did a slight eye roll but there are some realists on this committee (Papi and KLam) that will hopefully be able to steer this into a usable set of guidelines that organizations will respect and use.

My question is, if you are a voluntourism organization – been in business for years doing great sustainable work, how does this help you? I can’t see Global Volunteers changing their model because of this research. Is it aimed at the new start ups to help them operate better? Or is it just a piece of research everyone can pat themselves on the back for but in reality doesn’t do much to further the field?

Below is the press release:

Industry Leaders Collaborate to Create Global Initiative to Transform Good Intentions into Best Practice

WASHINGTON, DC and TORONTO – The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and Planeterra, a leading non-profit foundation dedicated to sustainable community development and environmental conservation through travel, are collaborating to develop a set of criteria that will help international voluntourism providers plan and manage their programs in a responsible and sustainable manner.

An increasing number of travel companies are adding volunteer opportunities to their tour itineraries worldwide, and the trend, which is now commonly known as voluntourism, is growing rapidly. The 2008 Condé Nast Traveler/MSNBC poll, for example, stated that the number of regular volunteer vacationers has doubled since 2002, and the number of those who have volunteered at least once has tripled. According to the 2009 Green Traveler Study by CMIGreen, 59.1% of those surveyed said they were interested in volunteering during a future trip.

With this growth, a myriad of issues and challenges has emerged, including: project development concerns, impacts on host communities, travelers’ skills and experiences, and the potentials for positive change. There is an increasing need for effective tools that help providers and travelers make smart decisions. The goal of the TIES-Planeterra effort is to address these challenges and to outline parameters that will guide both project leaders and travelers alike.

“Travelers are searching for new authentic experiences worldwide, like voluntours, that put them face to face with some of our most important global challenges,” says Megan Epler Wood, Executive Director of Planeterra. “There are now more opportunities for travelers with skills, in areas like engineering and health care, to assist local communities and help develop beneficial projects, like assisting with clinics and developing clean water systems for villages that lack adequate services,” says Epler Wood.

To ensure that this project incorporates a diverse range of industry knowledge and experiences, TIES and Planeterra are working with an International Expert Committee representing a variety of industry sectors and regions:

Bodhi Garrett, Co-Director, Andaman Discoveries, Thailand
Valeria Gracia, Asociación Civil Voluntario Global, Argentina
Sallie Grayson, Programme Director, People and Places, U.K.
Nancy McGehee, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Virginia Tech University, U.S.A.
Paul and Thandi Miedema, Founders, Calabash Tours, South Africa
Kristin Lamoureux, Ph.D., Director, International Institute of Tourism Studies, The George Washington University School of Business, U.S.A.
Lelei LeLaulu, President, Community Benefit Development and Co-chairman, Innovation for Sustainable Development Centre, U.S.A.
Daniela Ruby Papi, Founder, PEPY Tours, Cambodia
Gopinath Parayil, Founder and Chief Executive, The Blue Yonder, India
Marnie Heim-Stafford and Jeremy Stafford, Owners, Voluntours, South Africa
Andy Woods-Ballard, Director of Operations, Global Vision International, U.K.
Dr. Stephen Wearing, Associate Professor, University of Technology, Australia

“We are thrilled to be collaborating with industry leaders and voluntourism experts from around the world,” says Dr. Kelly Bricker, Chair, TIES Board of Directors. “We believe that there are a number of opportunities to apply lessons learned from the ecotourism community’s experiences in the past couple of decades to effectively support voluntourism in order to maximize positive impacts of the power of travel.”

“Our first priority is to develop, through an interdisciplinary approach, sound guidelines for voluntourism activities that will serve as a practical tool for voluntourism providers,” says Megan Epler Wood of Planeterra. “This tool will both complement existing knowledge and make an important contribution to ongoing efforts to develop and grow voluntourism in a socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable manner.”

Planeterra was founded in 2003 by Gap Adventures, the largest independent adventure travel company in the world, and is a leading international organization promoting voluntourism activities, which give back to destinations and contribute to the sustainable development of communities.

“It’s very rewarding to see Planeterra and TIES leading this work to establish guidelines that will ensure the long-term health and well-being of communities and destinations around the world,” says Gap Adventures Marketing Director, Richard Edwards. “We believe the guidelines will serve as an important tool for voluntourism providers – from large global companies like Gap Adventures to small-scale local community enterprises.”

The research project will incorporate a global survey program to be undertaken in May 2011 and stakeholder meeting, which will be held Sept. 19-21 during the upcoming Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference organized by TIES in Hilton Head Island, SC. TIES will produce the final draft for expert committee review and publication in early 2012.

For more information on the TIES-Planeterra Voluntourism Guidelines project, see updates on:


5 thoughts on “International Voluntourism Guidelines Research Launched

  1. Hello and thank you for sharing the announcement on your blog! I’m working with the team (TIES, Planeterra and the committee members) on this project and wanted to share information regarding your questions above – “if you are a voluntourism organization – been in business for years doing great sustainable work, how does this help you? … Is it aimed at the new start ups to help them operate better?”

    Working with a wide range of professionals in the field of voluntourism, we aim to create a tool that can assist voluntourism providers (tourism businesses, destination organizations and institutions that have existing voluntourism programs and/or planning to implement voluntourism programs) plan and manage their programs in a (more) responsible and sustainable way. This project does not aim to create a new standard or certification program in the field of voluntourism, but rather to provide guidance via a multidisciplinary and international consultation effort. Those companies and organizations that “have been in business for years doing great sustainable work” in voluntourism are the best practice examples that we would like to learn from and help others learn from.

    We will provide updates on the survey, stakeholder meeting and the guideline development in the coming months through our sites. Please feel free to send comments, suggestions and questions to my email above.

    -Ayako Ezaki, TIES

    • Hi,

      I just wanted to advise you of the work that Tourism Concern are doing here in the UK on a Gapyear and International Volunteering Standard (GIVS). As an independent charitable organisation responding to pleas for help both from communities/organisations receiving volunteers, and from volunteers themselves who have had unsatisfactory experiences, we are in a good position to take an unbiased view of what is and is not good practice. Our standard is formed around 8 principles and we are currently trialling the auditing process with a number of UK volunteering organisations (please do contact me if you are interested in taking part). We expect to launch GIVS towards the end of June. Whilst I understand Sallie Grayson’s cynicism about standards, we hope that by having a rigorous auditing process, guided by an advisory panel of experts, and allowing for ongoing learning and development of the standard, we can really achieve something credible and that the GIVS tick mark will become recognised and trusted as evidence of good practice. However, this is challenging in many respects and we welcome helpful input. Likewise we would be very interested in co-operating in your research initiative.

      Peter Bishop, Tourism Concern

  2. Hello Alexia,
    Regarding existing guidelines and other tools (such as Voluntourism 101, FTTSA’s voluntourism program,, we have conducted preliminary research and interviews in order to gather information on them, which is incorporated into the development of industry survey, and will be discussed more in-depth through the follow-up process (including the stakeholder meeting in Sept). Through our consultation with committee members from around the world, we hope that we will be able to learn about, and avoid duplicating the work already done by existing guidelines and programs that are related to the goals of our project.
    -Ayako Ezaki

  3. Those of you that read my blog or posts – maybe will know that I am a cynic when it comes to guidelines and codes of practice -in my experience they are either too easy to massage to create a smoke and mirror effect or they are too onerous.I have agreed to participate in this research and development because I believe that the group collected ( I am particularly pleased by the number of receiving organisations represented) have a real chance to produce something meaningful and realistic BUT the jury is very much out for me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s