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 ( 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 and we’ll include you in the report!)

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


Does Your Organization Follow Any Specific Set of Voluntourism Guidelines?

Every few months, a new announcement—or at least discussion—about volunteer travel guidelines flies by my inbox.

Proposals of watchdog groups, new ethical and practical standards, and even research reports find their way onto voluntourism discussion boards like clockwork.

A few we’ve seen in just the past few years:

As many of us know already, there have been rumblings for years about creating a voluntourism umbrella group that would serve to unite providers and neutral parties alike—one that could attempt to pull together the scattered research and varied sets of guidelines set out by the many parties involved or interested in the voluntourism industry. At least from the discussion boards I frequent, I haven’t seen much conversation about this idea actually taking off—but would love to hear feedback from others about whether it’s happening, or whether you think it will or will not happen.

And so with all of that said, my question to you is this: as a volunteer abroad operator, do you adhere to any specific set of guidelines put out by researchers or other providers? From simple guides, to more complex ones, to membership and evaluation groups, have you actively set forth efforts to adhere to any particular set of standards?

And if so, where are you in the process? What have you found to be the most challenging part of following those standards, and what do you do to continually monitor and evaluate them?

Gap Year Travel Sector Fuelled by Recession

Good news from Travel Mole for those catering to gap year travelers, hope everyone had a great holiday!

As recession hits the travel industry hard, a ray of light is shining in the Gap Year travel sector with records broken and positive forecasts for 2009.

Gap Year is the term given to young people in Britain who take time out between school and university, or university and full-time work, and has been broadened to take in young people having a break between jobs, even retirees seeking a lasting experience.

Growth is particularly noticeable amongst recently made redundant young professionals leaving the UK to backpack around the world.

The most popular destination is Australia, which offers a two year Working Holiday Visa to UK residents under 31. One of the least affected economies where the recruitment market is still buoyant; trips Down Under are proving to be very attractive.

The Australian Department of Immigration & Citizenship stats for Working Holiday Visas show a Q3 rise year on year by 21 percent.

Natalie Crowhurst, 25, from Bournemouth has recently been made redundant from her firm of solicitors. She is leaving in January for a six to 12 month around the world trip.

“I’m taking the opportunity to travel around the world as it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Sure, the circumstances could be better and I’m a little worried about finding work when I get back, but this is an opportunity that I might not get again. So I can’t wait,” she said.

Tom Griffiths, founder of says, “It’s little surprise that this recession is fuelling the gap year travel sector as we are a “life transition” travel industry, which services people looking for things to do in between life stages, be it before, during or after university, in between jobs or around retirement.

To read the full article visit:

Learnings Take Two

Heading back to the US finally, for those of you who haven’t yet been to Norway I can highly recommend it (but maybe go in the summer so you don’t freeze)!

Being here made me wonder why we don’t actively look for volunteer travel destinations in developed countries – I talked with many a farmer, fisherman, school that would love to have volunteers. These people may not be below the poverty line but they are definitely struggling and sending volunteers to a developed country first might make better volunteers when we send them to developing countries afterwards, just a thought…

More learnings from ATWS:

– The airline industry is expected to lose $5.2B this year (ouch): IATA

– Travelers are booking much closer to departure dates, operators are reporting less lead time – advanced bookings are down 5-25% from this time last year

– For the first time online behavior shows that travelers are truly placing a heavy weight on authentic content like blogs, reviews, etc in their purchasing decision

With people worrying about the economy now more than ever how is it effecting travel plans? Adventure Travel customer behaviors/categories:

1. The Passionate Traveler – 1 out of every 10 travelers

The passionate traveler is willing to cut back on other things in order to be able to travel more

2. The Intrepid Traveler – 2 out of every 10 travelers

This segment has doubled in size since 1999 and is very risk tolerant, will not be put off by changing economic conditions

3. The Opportunists – 2.5 out of every 10 travelers

Tend to be male, young and well educated and are more inclined to travel now because of discounts, less crowds, etc.

So basically, there’s hope – let’s not start blaming the economy yet, research shows that volunteer travel is doing well and based on our informal poll of voluntourism providers (the ones that bravely answered) so far we show that 75% of operators are up this year versus last.

Learnings from the Summit in Norway – Take One

What a great (and cold) summit for the adventure travel industry in Norway! Lots of great seminars and research were presented and some fun connections made – I’m still curious why Eartwatch was the onle volunteer travel provider there… Yes folks, volunteer travel really does fall into the adventure travel box and its time we had more of a voice in the Adventure Travel Trade Association, they do great work and we can learn from each other.

I’m still in Norway running around fjords but I wanted to start pushing out some of the great research and trends I learned this week – there is so much I’ll try to push it out in blurbs. I won’t source to the speaker and research as it will get confusing in a blog, but if you’d like to know more just send me an email.

Did you know…..


  • According to Google Travel Trends the amount of people searching for ‘adventure travel’ is accelerating at a faster rate than any other form of travel
  • Paid Adwords/PPC get 20-30% of clicks, while the organic listings get 70-80% of traffic – time to start getting serious about SEO

Volunteer Travel Trends:

  • 4% of the US travel market has taken a volunteer vacation and is growing three times faster than any other travel segment
  • 15M US travelers are interested in taking a volunteer vacation
  • 1 in 5 volunteer travelers had studied abroad before volunteering or had other significant international experience in their early years
  • More than half of the people that volunteer abroad are somehow part of a non-profit or volunteer at home
  • Volunteer travelers are twice as likely as other travelers to be major donors
  • One of main reasons travelers dont take a volunteer vacation is they assume they need building, medical or another specialized skill – looks like the industry needs to take a good look at its messaging if travelers think this!

Great stuff and more to come when my fingers thaw out from the cold Arctic!