What is voluntourism and why should it matter?

Is the craze to help others, while you are unwinding, helping the world or making it worse?

Volunteer vacations or “voluntouring” is a trend that has slowly gained momentum over the past few years. As the word implies, voluntourism combines holiday travel with volunteering at the destination that the tourist visits. In simpler terms, it involves travelling to a destination in order to improve the economic well-being, socio-cultural development, or environmental conservation of the destination and its people, by providing volunteer assistance and goods. Usually participants have to pay a fee in order to partake, and as with all tourism activities, any traveller who receives remuneration for their services are automatically excluded.

Image source: thesocietypages.org

Image source: thesocietypages.org

For the MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions, and events) industry it is an opportunity to expand a company’s social responsibility, the chance to deliver purpose-filled team-building activities, or even providing co-travelling spouses with an alternative to destination shopping sprees. Travellers desire a sense of purpose in their leisure activities. Although laying on the beach still appeals to some travellers, many people crave a more meaningful and substantiated vacation. In voluntourism, volunteers can experience a greater sense of social responsibility by improving the lives and well-being of the locals.

Google the term and you will notice a few other terms also associated with this phenomenon: voluntourist, ethical holiday, travel philanthropy and more. These terms are directly linked to sustainable tourism, defined by Sustainable Travel International as “lessening the toll that travel and tourism takes on the environment and local cultures.”  Their motto is: Leave the world a better place.

As with most travel-related activities, if voluntourism is well-organized and planned, the traveller can indeed make use of their holiday to bring about some change in the world, and also gain some personal benefits. Some of the more obvious pros include:

  • Voluntourism enables busy people to make time for charity work, combined with their holiday time. The volunteering has the added benefit of providing families with a shared experience, and single travellers the chance of travelling in the company of others.
  • The extra man-power that such a holiday provides to many well-deserved projects can result in cost savings, and faster completion as an ongoing stream of fresh workers keep the momentum going.
  • Both volunteers as well as recipients have the chance of gaining insight into the world and the lives of others. Voluntourism is supposed to be a people-to-people experience, striving to create cultural exchange and understanding.
  • A short voluntour can have far reaching effects, such as inspiring family members and friends to get involved with a cause, or even convincing the voluntourist to return to the project or to get involved with another project.

But, unfortunately as with any activity that is not well-organised or thoroughly planned, voluntourism can just as easily end up as a disaster if the parties involved do not understand the complexities in ensuring the experience is successful and enjoyable. One of the major downsides is the possibility of people only getting involved for a short feel-good burst of service, resulting in a project getting completed but not leading to much useful help for the complex cause.

Although voluntourism is rooted in good intentions, maybe it is not the best idea for your next business trip or holiday, unless done through a reputable and sustainable organisation, with a determined, long-term commitment to continue with the good work after you have touched home ground.

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What makes a customer change?

Experts say that our customers are constantly changing. I suppose it is true, as customers are people and people change. But why? What makes customers change? Here are a few reasons for change:

Technology

Like we have different generations (Baby Boomers, Generation X and Y and more) we also have different technologies that the generations are comfortable with. Some parts of certain generations adapt, others not. They say generation Y is the Twitter generation. Boy, would I like to see my mother Tweet! It’s two different generations growing up with different technological habits. For many of our parents television was a luxury. Today we stay up to date with news via Twitter. It’s quicker, allowing for a faster pace and more knowledge on a wider variety of subjects, which means our customers want faster service and are more educated than ever with a pace that increases daily.

Life stages

Loyal customers, those people who return time and again, also change. We need to be sure to change with them in order to keep them loyal. A teenager who came to drink a milkshake at your restaurant close to the university will become a student who would like to enjoy a beer at the same spot a few years from now. It’s about getting to know your customers and giving them special attention. The guy who attended a party at your establishment yesterday might bring his wife and children to your restaurant a year from now. It’s about remembering.

Social Responsibility

Customers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of social responsibility. If they can be part of your initiatives toward having an impact on your community, they might support you even more.

Green considerations

More and more travellers prefer to stay at hotels and guesthouses that take their environmental responsibility seriously. Do you?

Environmental Responsibility

Environmental Responsibility

Previous experiences and expectations

People experience things and then set a certain standard with which they are comfortable. They also hear about places and attractions from friends, which creates a certain expectation. Be sure to live up to that!

Increased health requirements

There has been a tremendous increase in food related illnesses and allergies. We need to be aware of these things and cater for them too.

Economy changes

This one I don’t even have to mention, because we all know what it takes to keep afloat in trying times. Our customers feel the same. We need to be willing to amend and change with them to show them that we care and we understand. We need to learn to put our customers first – even when it comes to financial stability. They are the ones who will keep your business alive if they feel that they matter.

Travelling Mystery Guest offers workshops on customer service, the customer’s journey and more. For bookings, contact Renate de Villiers on enquire@travellingmystery.co.za / 079 110 5674.