Have You Changed Your Program Offerings Due to the Economy?

From our state of the volunteer travel survey responses, to LinkedIn discussion groups, to forums and beyond, I’ve noticed volunteer travel providers worldwide becoming frustrated with their recruitment rates, which appear to be dropping from recent years. A few alternatives some have been developing—particularly smaller, niche ones that can’t quite compete monetarily with the behemoth ones we all know:

  • Internships abroad with a volunteer component
  • Longer-term volunteering
  • Service-learning (or learning service, as the case may be)
  • Career- or degree-based placements (e.g., veterinary training abroad for degree fulfillment)

Before I left my own volunteer travel company last year, I had the chance to start recruiting volunteers and interns for some new partnership programs in Central America; every single person who signed on during my time there wanted a semester-long placement or a career- or degree-related one (e.g., medical placement abroad for professionals in the field). In my interviews with potential volunteers and interns, all of them noted they very much wanted to travel, but as they had tiny, tiny budgets, they had to make sure it was absolutely worth their while: a longer-term placement abroad that satisfied degree requirements or helped build their careers was a two-for one deal in their book.

In speaking with other providers lately, many have noticed the same thing—short-term “volunteer vacation”-type projects just aren’t cutting it lately.

So friends: what have you noticed? Have you felt the need to change your volunteer placements to accommodate this new(ish) wave of travelers? How do your short-term programs stack up against your long-term ones, if you offer both? And if you have skills-based or unskilled programs, is one doing better than the other?

Volunteer Travel Operators: Get Off Your Asses and Help Your Industry!

Our goal at Voluntourism Gal is to provide insights into and facilitate discussion about the volunteer travel industry. And aside from a few wonderful, vocal people, you’re all clamming up—and that makes the whole “facilitating discussion” thing incredibly difficult.

In 2009, the State of the Volunteer Travel Industry Survey polled 28 U.S.-based organizations with a few short questions, which we’ll get into below. This survey allowed researchers, media, and stakeholders to understand where we were that year and what you guys projected for the future of your own industry.

Well, the landscape has changed and the information on the previous publication is outdated. This spring, we asked you five questions that would allow us to release a brand-new report with updated, relevant information. This report is intended to help the community grow and understand where we’re headed.

As of today, we haven’t received nearly enough responses yet to compile the 2013 edition. Many of you are interested in seeing the report, but you’re not actually participating in the research. Do you want to have a solid answer when someone asks, “Is volunteer travel growing?” How about, “How has your industry fared during the recession?” Do you want something to actually back it up? Do you want to see the most popular countries U.S.-based organizations are sending their volunteers to? How about an average return rate to see how you stack up against the national number? I know I did when I operated my own volunteer travel company. I built the 2009 report into my freakin’ business plan.

Those are answers we want to provide for you—and unfortunately, we can’t release or report on anything until more of you get back to us.

So! As a reminder: all participants’ information will be kept strictly confidential and only the results and a total list of companies that participated, will be produced. Your competitors will not know how many volunteers you specifically are sending abroad, or what your company’s return rate is, or any other information about you individually.

Please take a couple minutes to answer the following five questions (plus the optional ones, if you have time) and send them to me directly at Sarah@FrayedPassport.com or to Alexia at alexia@lassocommunications.com.

And to those that have already responded: Thank you!

MAIN QUESTIONS

  1. To which countries do you currently send volunteers?
  2. What is the most popular activity for your volunteers? Building; Community Development; Conservation—Environmental, Wildlife, or Heritage; Scientific; Health Care; Skills Based Professional; Teaching; Other (please describe)
  3. How many volunteers did you send abroad in 2012?
  4. Do you expect to send more or less volunteers abroad in 2013 than you did in 2012?
  5. What is your return rate for volunteers?

OPTIONAL QUESTIONS

  1. Do you feel the economy is affecting your business positively, negatively or unaffected? What, if anything, have you done to counteract the effects of the recession?
  2. Are there any valuable insights or lessons learned you would like to share with the industry?
  3. Which term do you most associate with your organization? Voluntourism, volunteer tourism, volunteer vacation, volunteer travel, volunteer abroad, or other?

To qualify as an operator in this survey, you must have a U.S. office; send U.S. volunteers abroad; not be faith-based in any way; require that volunteers must pay for their placement; and require that travelers work for more than four days of straight volunteering (e.g., cannot be an adventure travel placement with a volunteer component).

Please send all responses to Sarah@FrayedPassport.com or to Alexia at alexia@lassocommunications.com.

Call for Entries: 2013 State of the Volunteer Travel Industry Survey

Alrighty, friends—we’re ready to start the 2013 State of the Volunteer Travel Industry Survey!

You can view the previous one here (opens in a new tab as a PDF), or on our Voluntourism Research page.

With this report, we want to continue our research to see if the field has expanded, shrunk, changed…well, you get the idea. Your participation in this survey will give us an accurate pulse of the industry within the United States, and will help us as we move forward with research, best practices, and more.

All participants’ information will be kept strictly confidential and only the results and a total list of companies that participated, will be produced—for free, and for all to see.

There are two ways to participate: wait until Alexia or I call and harass you, or just send me an email (Sarah@FrayedPassport.com) with your answers. We’d much prefer an email, as this will help us keep a record of your responses—from you directly—so that nothing gets lost in the mix, and so that we’re both completely on the same page about what you’ve reported.

Also let me know if you’d be willing to send the volunteer survey out among your networks, and I will send you a survey that is branded for your organization.

Criteria to qualify as an operator in this survey:

  • Have a U.S. office
  • Send U.S. volunteers abroad
  • Not faith-based in any way
  • Volunteers must pay for their placement
  • Travelers work for more than four days of straight volunteering (e.g., cannot be an adventure travel placement with a volunteer component)

Questions for operators that meet the above criteria:

  • To which countries do you currently send volunteers?
  • What is the most popular activity for your volunteers? Building; Community Development; Conservation—Environmental, Wildlife, or Heritage; Scientific; Health Care; Skills Based Professional; Teaching; Other (please describe)
  • How many volunteers did you send abroad in 2012?
  • Do you expect to send more or less volunteers abroad in 2013 than you did in 2012?
  • What is your return rate for volunteers?

Optional, if you have time:

  • Do you feel the economy is affecting your business positively, negatively or unaffected? What, if anything, have you done to counteract the effects of the recession?
  • Are there any valuable insights or lessons learned you would like to share with the industry?
  • Which term do you most associate with your organization? Voluntourism, volunteer tourism, volunteer vacation, volunteer travel, volunteer abroad, or other?

To be included in the report, we ask that you get back to us via email by Friday, April 26. (Update: we’ve heard from those of you who’d like to send your answers along still–please send your surveys ASAP to Sarah@FrayedPassport.com and we’ll include you in the report!)

Thanks very much—we’re looking forward to hearing what you have to say!

State of the Industry Survey – Please Reply

How many times has a reporter asked you what the size of the voluntourism market in the US is?  Last year we came up with some real numbers for the first time thanks to your help. This year we want to continue the research to see if the field has grown/shrunk/etc. So please participate so we can get an accurate pulse of the industry, this will help all of us.

All participants’ information will be kept strictly confidential and only the results, and a total list of companies that participated, will be produced – for free, for all to see.

This year we have also partnered with GeckoGo.com to learn some insights from the volunteer themselves. We’ve developed a basic survey that we’re hoping you will send to your mailing list of volunteers. The questions are quick and straight forward but will help give everyone an idea of motivations and volunteer mindset.

So there are two ways to participate: wait until I call and harass you or just send me an email with your answers (much appreciated). Also let me know if you’d be willing to have send the volunteer survey out and I will send you a survey that is branded for your organization.

Criteria to qualify as an operator in this survey:
– Have a US office
– Send US volunteers abroad
– Not faith based in anyway
– Volunteers have to pay to volunteer
– Travelers work for more than 4 days of straight volunteering (the idea with this is to eliminate the adventure companies that offer voluntourism as an activity)

Questions for operators that meet the criteria:

– To which countries do you currently send volunteers?

– What is the most popular activity for your volunteers? Building; Community Development; Conservation – Environmental, Wildlife, or Heritage; Scientific; Health Care; Skills Based Professional; Teaching; Other (please describe)

– How many volunteers did you send abroad in 2009?

– Do you expect to send more or less volunteers abroad in 2010 than you did in 2009?

– What is your return rate for volunteers?

Optional, if you have time:

– Do you feel the economy is affecting your business positively, negatively or unaffected? What, if anything, have you done to counteract the effects of the recession?

– Are there any valuable insights or lessons learned you would like to share with the industry?

-Which term do you most associate with your organization? Voluntourism, volunteer tourism, volunteer vacation, volunteer travel, volunteer abroad?

Voluntourism as a Honeymoon Option?

Interesting article about honeymoons and voluntourism – it seems to be a growing trend, are you finding that with your company? Is it possibly a market you should considering targeting?

http://www.dailycamera.com/lifestyles/ci_13271856

(and yes I admit this is a shameless plug for an article I helped with, but on a FAM this week and no time to write a real post =)

To Have and To Hold – and to Help

Many newlyweds opt for candles, champagne toasts and rose-petal-covered beds, but Meghan Courtney and Rich Shaner had a different idea of romance.

Their honeymoon was a little dirty. And sweaty. And exhausting. And not at all what you’re thinking.

Courtney and Shaner, who were married Aug. 1 in Pennsylvania, honeymooned in Boulder to help build a house with the Flatirons Habitat for Humanity.

“We wanted something other than the standard Hawaii trip, a different take on the honeymoon,” Courtney said. “They had some pretty elaborate honeyteering trips abroad, but they were too extreme for us, so we looked to create our own and give back.”

Honeyteering. That’s the media-coined phrase for volunteer honeymoons — lumped in with another word fusion: voluntourism.

Despite the economy and its gloomy tourism numbers, voluntourism is still booming, according to the State of the Volunteer Travel Industry survey by Littleton-based Lasso Communications. In fact, 61 percent of travel companies surveyed said they expected to send more volunteers abroad this year than last, and 16 percent expected the same amount.

About 9 percent of these people travel with their partner, according to another study, Volunteer Travel Insights 2009 by GeckoGo.

Not many. Yet one of the greatest complaints about volunteer vacations is that people get lonely and want someone to decompress with, the studies found. Not to mention, the GeckoGo study found that 99 percent of participants thought their trip was meaningful or very meaningful. Some respondents said it was the best experience of their lives.

Sharing that with your new life partner can deepen the relationship, advocates say.

Alexia Nestoria, of Littleton, is a consultant for the volunteer travel industry who writes the blog voluntourismgal.com.

She attributes the volunteerism growth to an extension of the green movement; a weak job market that has pushed graduates to look for alternate kinds of experience; and layoffs that have left Americans with more time on their hands.

“I think honeymoons are changing, to be honest. It’s no longer a booze cruise or lying on the beach,” Nestoria said. “Budgets are tighter, and people want every dollar to count.”

Plus, the generation that is getting married right now is more aware of the need to help. They are savvy travelers who ask questions and want to know where their dollars are going.

http://www.dailycamera.com/lifestyles/ci_13271856

Outdoor Industry Association Survey Reveals Industry Cautious About Economic Recovery

Boulder, CO, – In a survey released June 1, 2009, by Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), small businesses reported they have lowered revenue expectations, reduced inventory levels, and believe their businesses will rebound later than they expected last fall.

OIA, in conjunction with Piper Jaffray Companies, recently surveyed industry executives with respect to their view of current economic prospects, recovery timeline, cost inflation, and the effect of tightened credit market on near-term business operations.  Results of that survey are now available in a new report entitled, The Piper Jaffray Outdoor Industry Survey.

This was the second survey conducted by OIA and Piper Jaffray in the past six months, and reflected a cautious and realistic picture of the economic situation facing the industry.

Nearly all respondents were independent businesses with revenues less than $50M annually, which provides an excellent gauge of the independent channel within the outdoor community.  The majority of respondents identified themselves as either vendors or retailers.

Among the highlights:
* Concern has grown:  When asked to indicate the level of concern surrounding current economic conditions affecting their business, 98% indicated they are “very” or “somewhat” concerned, up three percentage points from last fall.  The level of concern was higher with vendors, where 49% signaled they are “very concerned” versus 36% of retailers.  This is a marked increase in the past six months.
* Recovery expectations pushed back: Last fall, the majority of respondents said they expected the recovery to come in late 2009.  Nearly half said they believed business would turn in the second half of 2009 and 35% viewed the first half of 2010 as the inflection point.  However, based on the results of this more recent survey, that was an optimistic view.  Now, only 15% believe the recovery will take place this year.  Nearly fifty percent believe the economy will improve in the first half of 2010, one-fourth say the second half of 2010, and 15% believe it will not improve until after 2010.
* Vendors and Retailers are in sync:  Last fall, retailers were far more optimistic than vendors about the pace of economic recovery.  That disparity has dissipated in this survey with both vendors and retailers having similar perceptions about recovery expectations.  This more balanced view is leading to appropriate inventory levels in the channel, which should also lead to improved profitability and pricing integrity as revenues stabilize.
* Businesses prepared for slow-down:  Revenue expectations for 2009 have declined since last fall.  In the fall survey, more than three-quarters of respondents projected revenues in 2009 would be above 2008.  Now, only about one-third expect 2009 revenue to top 2008 and nearly one-fourth expect revenues to decrease significantly.
* Looking Back:  The majority of respondents indicated revenues were down over the last three months vs. the prior year.  This issue hit retailers harder than vendors, with a majority of retailers saying revenues were down and just over one-third of vendors registering a decline in revenues.
* Looking Ahead:  In general, expectations are higher for the next three months, with just under half of respondents expecting revenues to continue declining over the next three months.  Overall, we believe a slightly negative outlook on revenues is prudent given that the second quarter of last year was impacted by the federal stimulus package, the personal savings rate is now higher, and the current unemployment rate is higher than in the past.
* Lower sourcing costs:  Cost inflation concerns have declined since our last survey as the price of commodities and excess capacity has driven production costs lower.
* Inventory reductions on tap:  In response to these economic shifts, respondents report that they have taken appropriate steps in terms of inventory reductions.  More than one-half of all businesses are planning inventory levels below last year.  Inventory growth below the rate of future sales trends is critical in the current environment to help maintain profitability and keep price integrity.
* Stabilization in the credit markets:  There are some encouraging signs in the credit markets with interest rates at historically how levels and some company’s now accessing the market for liquidity.  More than three-quarters of all respondents observed no change in their ability to access capital with only a few expressing increased access to capital and 15% seeing a decrease in access to capital.

“This survey reveals that our smaller companies are taking appropriate steps to weather the economic storm,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, OIA President & CEO.  “These companies are critical components for our entire industry, and they have made appropriate changes that may accelerate the recovery timeline.”

As the report concludes, “In short, respondents maintain a realistic view of current business trends, sourcing costs, and inventory reductions which should benefit future profitability if sales trends remain stable or improve.  While revenue declines are prevalent throughout the sector, for both retailers and vendors, we believe employment reductions; cheaper goods and fewer markdowns will stabilize margins in the second half of the year.”

A copy of the full report, as well as all OIA research is available to members at http://www.outdoorindustry.org.

About Outdoor Industry Association

Outdoor Industry Association® (OIA) is a national trade association whose mission is to ensure the growth and success of the outdoor industry. OIA provides trade services for over 4000 manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, sales representatives and retailers in the outdoor industry. OIA programs include representation in government/legislative affairs, market and social research, business-to-business services and youth outreach initiatives. Educational events include the annual Rendezvous®, Outdoor University®, and the Capitol Summit. Outdoor Industry Association is based in Boulder, Colorado, and is the title sponsor of the Outdoor Retailer tradeshows. For more information go to http://www.outdoorindustry.org or call 303.444.3353.