Current Study Aims to Create New Voluntourism Guidelines

By Melanie J. Martin - 17 May 2011 9:31:0 GMT
Current Study Aims to Create New Voluntourism Guidelines

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and the nonprofit Planeterra plan to create a new set of guidelines for voluntourism providers to use in developing their programs.

The organizations have launched a study to gain feedback from industry stakeholders around the world.

Voluntourism in its simplest sense is volunteering while traveling. Volunteers in such programs frequently participate in environmental or social welfare projects. But such travel is not necessarily beneficial to local communities, environments, or travelers, researchers and industry professionals have long asserted. ''One of the most important challenges is ensuring long-term benefits and positive impact of voluntourism projects,'' says Ayako Ezaki, director of communication for TIES.

Ensuring transparency has also proven difficult, Ezaki adds. For example, a voluntourism provider may not clearly or accurately state where volunteers' fees go, or conduct thorough and non-biased studies on program outcomes.

Other pitfalls may include giving volunteers ''busy work'' that doesn't address a real need, taking jobs away from locals, failing to educate travelers, or imposing outside beliefs about what needs to change in the community. Likewise, unsustainable practices can pose a threat to the environment.

The new set of guidelines will help voluntourism providers design programs with more positive impacts, Ezaki says. The survey will consider the opinions of voluntourism operators, academics, NGO staff, and members of field associations throughout the world.

The researchers aim to gain feedback from local as well as international NGOS, and from voluntourism providers based in destination countries as well as those who connect travelers with opportunities in other countries. An international advisory committee representing diverse areas of the world is overseeing the project.

Existing guidelines include the Voluntourism 101 Self Check Guide, the Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa's (FTTSA) Voluntourism Standard, and the International Volunteer Programs Association's (IVPA) Volunteer Program Principles.

Planeterra works toward developing sustainable communities and travel initiatives. TIES aims to provide education and advocacy about the benefits of ecotourism, defined as ''responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.''

The survey will conclude in June. Stakeholders will meet at the Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference from September 19-21 in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, to discuss the results. TIES expects to release the draft of the new guidelines in early 2012.