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Published on Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Most expensive volunteer tourism trips 'least responsible'

Volunteer tourism organisations that offer the most expensive products are likely to be the least responsible, claim researchers from Leeds Metropolitan University who urged tour operators not to package volunteer trips like holidays.

In a study of UK volunteer tourism websites, researchers found the prices for comparable programmes varied from £48 per day to £110 per day, but that the cheapest were better than the most expensive at demonstrating how they were responsible.

"As volunteers' priority factor for choosing projects is price, if they focus on price per day comparisons this is good news for the more responsible organizations," it said.
Speaking about their findings, Dr Xavier Font, Reader at Leeds Metropolitan University, said: "It's not entirely unsurprising that the most responsible organisations price responsibly, as they are transparent about their cost structure and income.

"The less responsible organisations tend to hide the origin of their costs, which can also hide excessive profit margins/
"We found that companies choose to communicate not what are arguably the most important aspects of volunteer tourism but what is easiest and most attractive.  Some organisations were good in responsible tourism policies and conservation projects but were poor in communicating issues such as responsibility in childcare and other projects requiring the most sensitivity."
Independent consultant and lead author of the study, Victoria Smith, added: "The status of an organisation is no guarantee of responsible practice - it cannot be assumed that a charity automatically demonstrates responsible practice better, or for-profit commercial business demonstrates responsible practice less well. 

"The credibility that being an ethical business can bring in this market is strong, so organisations like to portray themselves that way, but it cannot be assumed they actually are."
Offering recommendations to volunteer tourism organisations and potential volunteers, Smith added: "Volunteer tourism organisations should be taking their responsibility more seriously.   

"Just because a product is volunteer tourism, does not mean it has positive impacts. In fact, due to the community integration that they can offer, it can merely act to magnify mass tourism's negative impacts.  

"These organisations have a responsibility to ensure their programmes have positive and not negative impacts and should offer financial transparency. It should not be sold like a holiday: this is affecting host communities' lives and livelihoods. This means proper needs assessments, appropriately recruited, matched and skilled volunteers working with locals, with clear objectives, sustainable programme management, reporting and lasting impact and respect.
"Online, volunteer tourism organisations must clearly demonstrate with evidence any claims they make, they must be transparent about their pricing structures and attribution and I urge them to review their web content regularly to ensure it is correctly communicating their level of responsibility, and is consistent across their web sites and congruent with their stated policies."

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