According to Stephen Wearing, Volunteer Tourists are defined as “those tourists who, for various reasons, volunteer in an organised way to undertake holidays that might involve aiding or alleviating the material poverty of some groups in society, the restoration of certain environments, or research into aspects of society or environment”. According to the UNWTO definition (1995), Voluntourism, can be domestic or international, from any originating market and up to one consecutive year.
Volunteer Tourism has been growing exponentially over the last two decades but the absence of an exact definition exhibits an industry or practice which has difficulties in regulation. It is promoted by offering you an authentic experience of a new country and its culture and creating a positive impact on the local society. Tour operators also christen it as Sustainable Tourism.
The three main pillars of Voluntourism are Volunteer Tourists, Volunteer Tourism organisations and the host communities. The most important stakeholder, host community, is often ignored in order to make the experience worthwhile for the tourist and profitable to the organisation. There have been cases wherein children have been kidnapped from neighbouring villages to fill the orphanages so that volunteer tourists can come and help out. This type of “adventure tourism” has become infamous for creating one-off projects with little long-term impact. It has become more of a glamorous line in the CV without any regards for the local community at all.
There are positive impacts of Voluntourism as well but the volunteer needs to choose the right program to make a long term impact on the local community. The motives of the volunteer need to be clearly defined and should be different than mainstream tourists. If the end goal of the person is to create a positive impact on the local community, then they should engage in Voluntourism and not look at it as a cheap and authentic way of experiencing a new culture in a new country. The volunteer needs to do a lot of research before embarking on a Voluntourism project with a company to ensure that the commercial interests of the company are positively aligned with the benefit of the local community.
Voluntourism is a great opportunity to serve the needy and get a new perspective on life. It must be ensured that, your new perspective is sustainable to the local community and creates an impact that you desired in the first place.