Do We Need an Association? Take Two Secs and Give Me Your Thoughts

OK – after the conference there has been a lot of talk about starting an all encompassing association, so… What do you say? I’m game if you are.

But what would you want out of it, what would you be prepared to bring to the table and how could we ensure the same mistakes made by other associations isn’t repeated?

Here are my thoughts – what do you think???

Purpose of Association

This statement will have to be finalized but the basics would be:

  • Provide a website that volunteer organizations in all countries can access and learn from
  • Provide monthly webinars on marketing trends, voluntourism news and research, etc.
  • Organize geographically relevant conferences to encourage discussion/collaboration
  • Organize events throughout the US to promote voluntourism to the masses
  • Create a unified voice that can be used to pitch media, lobby government bodies, etc.



This is the only voluntourism association that accepts all members, no matter their geographical location, size, 501c3 status or duration of trips. In order to maintain a website and provide webinars and discussion forums I strongly feel there would need to be a small membership fee to cover admin costs.

Something like $200/year is doable for most companies, and then I think we can adjust that down appropriately to countries with lower currency values like Nepal, China, etc.

I feel that if people are required to invest their money in an association they are that much more devoted to getting value out of that investment and will pay attention to conferences, forums, webinars.



In order to get buy in from all branches of the voluntourism industry I strongly think that the association must be managed by a neutral party and not by a group of companies. I suggest a full time manager that stays constant and then every year a new board of directors is voted on by the membership. The board of directors would consist of voluntourism company owners who are willing to have 6 annual meetings (via phone) on the state of the association. Ideally this would be a board of five people; with new nominations being cast each year (board members may be voted back into office but there will always be new people nominated to keep the peace).

Planeterra Puts People and Places at Center of Its New Strategic Agenda

Interesting release from Planeterra about their shift in direction.
TORONTO, ON, JULY 12, 2011 – Planeterra, an international non-profit organization based in Toronto, Canada is accelerating its capacity to support a growing number of sustainable development projects worldwide, in places where Gap Adventures and its travel industry partners operate adventure and cultural tours.

Founded in 2003 by Gap Adventures’ owner and founder, Bruce Poon Tip, Planeterra intends to break new ground by backing long-term solutions in key travel destinations worldwide. By leveraging small-scale businesses, creating ecosystem-wide solutions, and supporting essential human needs, Planeterra puts the people and places travelers visit at the center of its agenda.

“Planeterra revised its mission statement, and we’re now moving dynamically to help empower local people in travel destinations, to help develop their communities, preserve their cultures, protect their environment and create a humane and supportive system for their endeavors,” says Megan Epler Wood, the organization’s executive director.

Since 2007, Planeterra has facilitated the development of voluntours worldwide, by vetting projects where travelers share their time and skills with local people and community projects in destinations around the world. With a growing team of local Planeterra specialists the organization provides expert guidance and professional advice to the many projects incorporated into these voluntours. Planeterra allows its travel industry partners to manage and operate the voluntours.

Travelers who want to give back to the destinations and communities they visit support Planeterra’s work.  Travelers help build momentum behind a small business economy, which combined with fair trade and organic products can produce growing investment in environmentally sound and socially responsible development.

Planeterra will continue engaging travelers and the global travel community to help provide critical funds for investment in sustainable development projects that focus on specific needs in destinations around the world.

How to Contribute to Planeterra?

Planeterra is establishing a set of four funds, which will channel steady investment in social, environmental, and business solutions that are needed in the destinations worldwide.

The organization’s global team is developing a systematic approach to quickly identify recipients for its investments through its new model and collaborating closely with its travel partners to ensure recipients benefit not only from donations but also from the opportunities the travel economy can generate. Planeterra endeavors to finance the following social and environmental responsibility funds:

Emergency Preparedness & Response: Emergency response to climate related and natural disasters in travel destinations where our travel partners can donate effectively to help the area recover.

Destination Preservation: Improvement to the management of iconic destinations, which lack basic planning and infrastructure and urgently need systems for ensuring important historic monuments and human heritage are supported and conserved in the long-term.

Social & Environmental: Equitable solutions to human needs in tourism hubs – where travelers gather and stay in hotels, use local services, and prepare for their journeys. Conservation of ecosystems where travel impacts are increasing and funds are lagging for conserving the beautiful beaches, coral reefs, rain forests, wild rivers, high mountains, and deserts upon which the travel community depends.

Small Business Development: Entrepreneurial community small business development, where the travel economy brings growing opportunities to villages and local vendors who supply our travel partners.

About Planeterra
Created in 2003 by Gap Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip, Planeterra helps empower local people to develop their communities, conserve cultures, and create a humane and supportive system for their endeavors. The organization supports a steady cycle of giving and investment, via a global network of travel industry partners, in the social and environmental needs of people and places in the destinations Gap Adventures serves worldwide.

For More Information Contact:

Megan Epler Wood, Executive Director, Planeterra Foundation

Voluntourism Guidelines – Fill Out a Survey

A note from Ayako Ezaki | Director of Communications The International Ecotourism Society. She sent this to everyone at the Voluntourism Conference so I thought the blog readers might also like to chip in and give their two cents.

It was great to meet many of you and learn from you at the recent Voluntourism Conference in Denver. As I noted during my presentation on the Voluntourism Guidelines Project, we would like to request for your input on key questions from the industry survey. Based on discussions before and during the conference, we have identified a few questions from the industry survey we conducted in May, and would like to ask for your opinions and advice on these critical points.


Please take a few minutes to share your insights by completing this questionnaire:


*If you’ve responded to the industry survey we sent out in May, please feel free to fill out this questionnaire (or just send me an email) if you have any additional comments and feedback to share. In addition to these questions, we would welcome your advice on the project in general – for instance, how do you think the guidelines should be presented? what length, style, format, etc. do you feel would be most useful for voluntourism providers to implement?


Thank you very much in advance for your support, and again, please do feel free to contact me (email:, skype: ayako-ecotourism, phone: +1 202-341-1422) with ideas, comments, questions and suggestions.


Best regards,



P.S. If you plan to attend our Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference (ESTC) this September, please join us at the Voluntourism Stakeholder Meeting being held during the conference (Sept 20) to review and discuss ideas and suggestions for Voluntourism Guidelines:

Ayako Ezaki | Director of Communications

The International Ecotourism Society


p: +1 202 506 5033 x14


Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference (ESTC) |
The ESTC brings together innovative minds from across the industry to discuss practical ideas and solutions that inspire positive changes. Sept 19-21, 2011, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, USA

Good Points to Remember from the Voluntourism Conference

Guest post from Kelly Galaski, Planeterra Foundation

Many know “VoluntourismGal,” Alexia Nestora, through her voice online; on Twitter and through her blog where the Voluntourism sector meets. When Alexia suggested a meeting to discuss current voluntourism issues, in person, among industry practitioners, many people jumped at the chance. Not only is voluntourism growing but so are criticisms and questions regarding its effectiveness, success and even its ethicality. It was time to have a chat, so to speak.

So on June 28, 2011, 46 people including operators, NGOs, academics and media gathered together to discuss such issues.

Daniela Papi, of PEPY, also known for her voice in voluntourism, challenging the sector to look deep into the issues, started off the day, and these are some of the things she said:

Invest in People, Not Things

Build Long Term Relationships

Be Willing to Change

Research and Measure Impacts over the Long Term

These are points that stuck with me as the day went forward. They are points to remember, for everyone involved in voluntourism, but they also resonate for practitioners of community-based tourism and any tourism that aims to be a development tool.

I agree with each and hope that all voluntourism providers adopt these as mantras. What I really love is “Invest in People, Not Things.” I think it is a good lens through which all development initatives should be scanned. A new school is only as effective as how well its teachers are trained, and a healthcare facility as good as its staff’s medical knowledge. So where does that leave voluntourism providers? Well, I think that’s where “be willing to change” comes in. Look at the programs you have, and decide whether you believe in them and whether maybe they need to change.

Our intentions are always good, so why not really stay true to those intentions?

Another point made on the day that I think we really need to propagate not only in the voluntourism sector but in all tourism sectors is the concept of economic multipliers stemming from tourism spending in local communities. Kristin Lamoureux, Director of International Institute of Tourism Studies at George Washington University, brought this point to light in her discussion. She is publishing a model to help measure economic impacts of voluntourists. Sometimes emphasis is on raising money for donations or to buy things, rather than to spend that money at local businesses, and the effectiveness of this is contested.

I think Kristin’s model will show us that their impact will be greater, if the tourists really act as tourists, and spend money on services in the local community. I do think it’s the responsibility of all of us aware of this to spread the word and help educate travelers on the potential impact they can have, by promoting the value of making local expenditures while on any trip whether it be volunteering or otherwise.

There was a lot of great discussion and I think we could have easily filled up two days with more questions and answers, but I’m glad we had the chance to at least get one day in.

Thanks Alexia, looking forward to more discussions.

– Kelly Galaski, Planeterra Foundation