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?

IVPA Employee Benefits Survey Released

The IVPA recently released their Employee Benefits Survey for the voluntourism industry.

The purpose of this survey was to gather information on employee benefits from volunteer sending organizations for a general understanding of benefit trends in the industry. About 12 companies replied to the survey so it is not indicative of the whole industry but does give a snapshot.

Have a look at their findings:


Also… for those of you who haven’t participated in the ‘size/state of the voluntourism industry’ survey that I’m doing in conjunction with XOLA Consulting – then here is your friendly reminder. We’ve gotten some great responses so far!

Forget where the link is? Here you go!

Volunteer Code of Conduct – Do You Have One?

I recently came upon an organization out of Nepal called Social Treks that has a great volunteer code of conduct on their site, parts of it are pasted below. It raises a good question, do you have a a volunteer code of conduct and what are you including in that document?

From the Social Treks site:

We acknowledge that volunteers want to be responsible but are often not aware of the issues and appropriate codes of conduct. This document is not intended to be exhaustive but it does highlight a number of issues and provide guidelines, which will help you to:

•    Ensure your own personal safety  
•    Show respect to the local communities, customs and value systems

General Guidelines

•    At all times respect your coordinators and/or local hosts advice; they are experienced professionals and are there to ensure you enjoy your experience but not at the expense of others or the wildlife you have come to enjoy
•    If you are unsure or concerned about anything ask your coordinators and/or local hosts
•    Water is a valuable asset in the world. Use water sparingly and wisely.  Herewith are some tips to help you:
•    Never leave water taps running (even when brushing your teeth or washing your hands etc) and close them tightly when finished
•    Report dripping taps to hotel staff or home stay owner, as relevant
•    Do not request bath towels to be changed every day unless really necessary.
•    Shower rather than bathe and do not linger longer than necessary (where the choice is available)
•    When bathing use water sparingly
•    In village home stays, water will have be fetched by hand, in some cases a few kilometers away (not applicable in urban townships), you will normally be provided with a bucket of water for washing which is totally sufficient.
•    Never contaminate natural water sources with litter or chemicals such as soap and shampoo etc there are bio-products available on the market, which are suitable.

Cultural Awareness Guidelines

Remember at all times that in many instances the local culture may differ substantially from your personal views and value systems.  Yours are not necessarily right and theirs wrong just different, respect these differences and enjoy the unique opportunity to broaden your knowledge.

•    Do not go uninformed and unprepared into an interactive cultural experience.  Find out before hand how you should behave and to show appropriate respect. Here your coordinator or local host is available to you.
•    Make sure you are aware of relevant social issues, such as HIV/AIDS, poverty and water etc; pertaining to the area or culture you are visiting.  This will enable you to gain a better perspective.
•    Remember culture is dynamic and not all cultural activities are based on the contemporary way of life but may also be based on a traditional way of life of a bygone era.  Accept these for what they are by acknowledging the difference and value in celebrating past and present cultural differences.
•    Your coordinator and/or local hosts will brief you on the cultural sensitivities specific to the area you are visiting and how you can minimise potential negative impacts of your behaviour on the local community (e.g. most appropriate dress code when in local villages, when attending traditional ceremonies etc.)
•    Take special consideration of and respect for gender issues to which you may have a different viewpoint.  Without a full understanding of the culture, which you cannot hope to acquire on a short visit, you cannot afford to challenge these.  Ask questions in an attempt to get clarity but it is not for you to pass judgment.
•    It is important to note cultural perspectives surrounding nudity.  These differ from area to area in Nepal and between ethnic groups.
•    Take up opportunities to exchange culture with the local community in authentic settings and with willing participants.  There are many cultural tourist traps, which are out of context and for economic exploitation.
•    Always be polite and respectful to local people and show respect by asking before taking pictures. socialtours strongly discourages payment be made for the privilege. When photographing children ask for their parents’ consent first.
•    Begging is a major problem in many areas.  It is a sensitive issue and touches on the huge divide that exists between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.  One thing that we should all agree on is it is a distasteful practice not specifically for the visitor but also for the communities it affects.
•    If you are able, make a personal contribution to a local community development project in the area you have visited (e.g. local school, clinic, farming project, etc.). Channel this through the coordinator and it will go to the right hands and follow the right process. Do not get excited about how cheap development may look like in this part of the world. Every action has long lasting ramifications, hence due care has to be given to channel funds appropriately.
•    Although children may ask you for money or sweets, and it may make you feel good to give, please refrain.  The giving of cash or sweets does not help in the long term – it only perpetuates an underlying problem.  
•    Remember at all times that most children have parents, and as the family providers, any giving should come from the parents.
•    Remember at all times that in any cultural exchange / interaction the desired outcome is for you to depart in the knowledge that you have done your best to leave positive impressions with you hosts.  Be tourism ambassadors!

Responsible Travel Guidelines

As a traveler, you have a role to play in Responsible Tourism. We can provide a framework to achieve our goals but as a traveler your actions whilst on holiday and your choice of tour operator have considerable part to play. We always provide guidelines in our pre-departure information for the places that we visit and you are welcome to talk to our leaders about any specific queries you may have.

The following advice we hope covers some of the more important issues to be aware of during your travels.

Environmental issues

1. Never buy products that exploit wildlife or aid the destruction of species or habitats. Do not buy souvenirs made from endangered species, like ivory; doing so will only encourage the trade.
2. Consider what you really need to take with you. Waste disposal systems in many countries are ill equipped to deal with the increased pressures that tourism brings, and a few simple measures can make an enormous difference to the effect you have on your destination. Where possible remove the wrapping of packaged goods before you leave: unwrap soaps and take bottles out of boxes.
3. Pick up your litter as you would at home: bottles, cans, plastic, cigarette butts, apart from being unsightly, can be deadly to wild animals.
4. Take environmentally friendly detergents and shampoos for hand and hair washing, and use as little as possible. This will help to keep valuable fresh water supplies, rivers, streams and the sea free from pollution. Always take a bucket or similar and wash well away from the water source to prevent the ingredients of soap polluting someone else’s drinking water.
5. Remember that in many places fresh water is a very precious commodity and should not be wasted, so use a minimum for showering and washing.
6. Where any toilet facilities exist, however unsavoury, they should be used. Where they do not, always bury your waste and make sure it is never near, (at least 30m) from a water source.
7. Although we insist that our guides maintain suitable distances from wildlife, allowing the animal a suitable escape distance, there is always a temptation to get closer. For this reason we recommend that you don’t encourage your guide or driver to get closer to the animals than is acceptable and to take the most powerful lens for your camera you can get. Never feed animals and never attempt to touch them.

Social issues

We hope that those who choose to travel with do so with a genuine desire to enhance their holiday by learning more about the people of the host community.

1. It’s quite easy in a small, simple community to appear to be an arrogant rich foreigner, so be aware of the feelings of other people, and try to avoid giving offence. Learning even a little of the local language can help reduce these barriers. Take note of dress codes and appropriate photography. Your PMT can advise you.
2. Always ask permission before taking pictures of people, ritual events or special places like shrines. If people seem reluctant or look away then don’t take a picture. Be careful not to cause offence through thoughtlessness.
3. Ask your guide for advice on how to respond to begging and about appropriate gifts. It is usually better, for example, to give school materials or local food treats as a group, through the leader, to the school head or village head; just handing out sweets encourages children to be a nuisance by begging, and may well ruin their teeth in a place where there is no dental service.
4. Extravagant displays of wealth such as ostentatious jewelry and technological gadgetry can be an incitement to robbery, as well as accentuating the gap between rich and poor.

Economic issues

1. Try to buy locally made crafts and support local skills and do not simply buy on price but on value to you: bargaining for a lower price for both souvenirs and services is often the accepted and expected custom, but don’t drive a hard bargain just for the sake of it.
2. Try the local food and specialties. Many rural areas around the world are under threat from a reduction in their agricultural base and by eating locally produced goods you will help the local farmers as well as the local economy.

Voluntourism Search Words Vary by Region

There are so many terms that we all use for this industry (volunteer travel, volunteer vacation, voluntourism, volunteer tourism) that it seems most operators never know what to call themselves. Using Google Insight I did a quick survey on what people are searching what terms, hopefully its useful.

Volunteer Vacation – Top states using this term to search: New York, California

Volunteer Travel – Top states using this term to search: Colorado, Mass.

Volunteer Abroad – Top states using this term to search: Mass. and New York

Voluntourism – Top states using this term to search: California all the way

BBC Conference a Success!

(sorry for the below formatting – cant quite get it right but its Friday night so…)


In case you couldn’t make it to the BBC Conference just thoughth I’d let you know that it was a real success. Lots of new faces came and there was great participation from universities and corporation. We got updates on the Global Service Fellowship Bill directly from Senator Feingold’s legislative aide and had a great keynote by Senator Wofford and David Caprara (plus a pretty good marketing panel with Christina Heyniger, Ed Wilson, Steven Rosenthal and yours truly).


For those curious who actually made it, below is a participant list. Looking forward to the next conference in March and then on to Singapore in June!

Sponsors who helped keep it cheap for the rest of us:

Cross Cultural Solutions, Globe Aware  Partners of the Americas  Service for Peace World Servants


WorldTeach ACDI/VOCA Fly for Good




The Advocacy Project American Jewish World Service American UniversityAmigos de las Americas Atlas Corps

Center for Social Development

Central Michigan University Citigroup

Earthwatch Institute

George Mason University

George Washington University Global Citizens Network Global Citizen Year Global Volunteers HOPE Worldwide IBM International Student Exchange Programs IPSL KPMG

Lifetree Adventures

Manna Project International

Partners of the Americas

Prevent Human Trafficking

SUNY – New Paltz Center for International Programs Travel Alive

United Planet

Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance

Washington University in St. Louis

World Leadership School







Adventure Industry Research Roundup Released

Xola Consulting has released their 2008 Adventure Industry Roundup, to buy the full version click here – below are a few notes from the executive summary that are really interesting for our market.

Traveler Trends
A new crop of adventure travelers is growing in importance — “GenY” travelers and even younger, the so-called “Millennials” are traveler segments to watch for destination developers and adventure travel tour operators. In 2008 Xola’s Natasha Martin conducted primary survey research to better understand the preferences and attitudes of youth who consider themselves adventure travelers. Key findings from Xola’s research indicate that GenY adventure travelers:

    • Are driven by a destination priority over a budget concern: 82% determine destination first, then worry about budget;
    • Travel with a specific purpose to explore and engage with other cultures: they indicate motivations which are consistent with those of Baby Boomer adventure travelers;
  • The adventure travel community should expect to see accelerated growth of social networks dedicated to adventure tourism in the coming months. Already some tour operators are embracing these concepts on their websites, and online adventure travel information sites are emphasizing networking in their operations.
    The use of technology in general is growing relative to tourism, not only the Internet but also wireless communications while traveling is becoming important to travelers.

    The Internet continues to shift power from service providers to travelers, pushing the travel industry to become much more market-sensitive, responding to consumer price expectations and other factors. In fact, Forrester Research predicts that travel will remain the number one on-line retail category and grow to $119 billion by 2010.

    Half of all travel media users (50%) say that they read, watch or listen to travel media at least once a month or once a week. About one-third (31%) of travelers have decided to visit a travel destination because of information that they saw or read in the travel media.

    • In spite of the generally pessimistic outlook for travel and tourism this year, we have had reports from several adventure travel media sources that they are not seeing any slowdown in travel ad spending to date. Bryan Kinkade, Director, Travel & Tourism, National Geographic Adventure, stated in a July, 2008: “As it looks now, 2008 will be another record year for the ad travel category at National Geographic Adventure as more and more destinations and travel providers are identifying adventure travel as a vibrant growth and recession-resistant sector. Our readers view their adventure travel vacations as an absolute right — and while there might be some tightening in other areas of their life, they are not changing their travel plans.”

    Key Adventure Company Trends

    • Increasing focus on land-based immersion in Africa and East Asia;
    • More sea-faring expedition tours to the Arctic, Galapagos and Alaska;
    • Taking increased measures to reduce carbon imprint and impact on environment;
    • Customizable trips becoming mainstays in catalogs to reach high-end travelers;
    • Increase in women-oriented trips, family adventures and theme travel (e.g., culinary tours, wine vacations, gastronomic tours);
    • Emergence of “frequent traveler programs” offering discounts and special offers to drive loyalty;
    • Expansion in volunteer tourism opportunities; and
    • Special advertising and direct marketing to customer databases; special packages to attract middle market travelers most squeezed by current fuel prices.