Visit Atlantic City

Published on Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Voluntourism - the more you pay the less they get

Volunteer tourism organisations that offer the most expensive products are likely to be the least responsible, research from Leeds Metropolitan University has revealed.

The study, published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism, led by Victoria Smith and Dr Xavier Font, suggests that price and responsibility display an inverse relationship when considering comparable volunteer tourism products, on a price-per-day basis.  The product or content that communicated the least how it was responsible tended to be the most expensive.

In the study, the researchers also suggest that volunteer tourism organisations should be taking their responsibility more seriously especially in marketing their programs to potential volunteers.

Comparable products' prices were demonstrated to vary widely from £48 per day for the overall most responsible organisation to £110 per day for the least overall responsible organisation in the study. 

Using the results, the researchers introduced the concept of 'Responsibility Value' as a bond of quality.  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 organisations.

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."

Lead author of the study, tourism consultant 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."

Victoria 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. … 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.

Speaking on behalf of Tourism Concern (who have been campaigning about voluntourism for some years and have just launched an Ethical volunteering group) Mark Watson said "this study adds to growing research that many UK volunteers pay thousands of pounds, with most going to the tour operator, to undertake short volunteering placements overseas which, although well intentioned, can often do more harm than good. "

"Tour companies market themselves to potential volunteers with slick websites and compelling imagery so it comes as no surprise that price and responsibility have an inverse relationship. There are many opportunities for people to undertake meaningful volunteering in their own community, where they will receive proper training, support and supervision - without the need to pay a tour operator for the privilege."

In the majority of cases people would be far better (and have a more rewarding experience) volunteering at home and spending their money on travelling and staying in places such as those listed in our Ethical Travel Guide."

Said Gopinath Parayil of Keralan operator The Blue Yonder "I have always been very skeptical about voluntourism companies as well as the 'impacts' they create in destinations. The sad part is that irrespective of such experiences not giving an opportunity for the 'volunteer' to find themselves, companies have managed to sell far too well."

A lot of them travel with an idea of 'wanting' to help, where a retrospective would tell them that the real need is for them to look into themselves before they fly out."

"It might sound arrogant considering that I come from a country that still dabbles with the poverty of 400+million people, but suggest that potential voluntourists should look in their own backyards and see if your volunteering can make a difference there before flying out.

"With sustained campaigns and studies like this, the trend of selling 'highly priced voluntourism' business won't sustain long."

Valere Tjolle

Latest Sustainable Tourism Report out today, GET FREE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND REVIEW OFFER HERE


Story Image

Your Comments

, be the first to post a comment.
Your email:

Email other comments made to this story

NOTE: Comments are subject to admin approval before being posted.
Mole Poll
Have you seen a spike in amber list holiday demand?


Ottawa - Capital of Canada is open for business and ready for visitors

Ambassador, UK's newest Cruise Line is now on Sale - Christian Verhounig explains all

Minneapolis and the post George Floyd era

The UK Travel and Tourism Industry in Crisis - We speak to UKInbound

We speak to Dohop - the technology/tech provider for the airline industry

Lonely Planet launch UK Road trip Guide