The Rise of Voluntourism
More and more travelers are seeking to lend a hand while on vacation.
Many travelers today don’t just want to see the world, they also want to make it a better place. The Voluntourism Institute estimates that the number of voluntourists worldwide could reach 25 to 30 million by the end of the decade.
“What started as a niche market has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry,” says Kathryn Pisco, founder of Unearth the World, which pairs travelers with opportunities for skills-based volunteering and community engagement in places around the world, such as Peru, Zambia and Nicaragua. “We receive inquiries from people looking to teach, work with children or assist physical building projects. The latter tend to be especially popular because people like seeing a finished product.”
The hospitality industry is responding to the new demand. In April, Carnival debuted Fathom, a new cruise line featuring volunteer experiences. Looking to partner with a volunteer program? Cynthia Dunbar, general manager of REI Adventures—which offers several volunteer vacations—stresses the importance of finding a group that shares your brand’s overall mission and goals. To support volunteers, make laundry facilities, first aid kits and sack lunches readily available.
Most important, do your research. Pisco recommends that resorts ask voluntourism groups where their money is going, what kind of impact they will be making and what kind of pre- and post-trip support these groups will receive. Provided the first experience is impactful and well organized, travelers are often inspired to volunteer again. At Unearth the World, about 40 percent of repeat volunteers try a new project, while about 60 percent return to the same program.
Photo credit: Courtesy Unearth the World