What is the size of the voluntourism market?

Whilst often cited as one of the fastest growing sectors of tourism [1][2], no comparable statistics really exist to determine the exact size of the voluntourism market. This is partly due to differences of definition in what constitutes voluntourism, versus volunteerism or tourism[3], and partly due to immeasurability of its activity [4].

Various (incomparable) market statistics include:

  • In 2004, there were more than 800 organisations providing overseas volunteering in 200 countries. [5]
  • In 2006, voluntourism was estimated to be worth US$150 million.[6]
  • In 2008, a Tourism and Research Marketing survey of 300 organisations estimated the market size to be 1.6 million volunteer tourists per year worth £1.3 billion [7].
  • In 2008, the market was estimated to have grown 5-10% in Western Europe over the course of five years [8].
  • In 2009, GeckoGo’s survey of more than two thousand voluntourists worldwide found the UK to be the third largest originating market.
  • In 2012, 35% of adults said they would like to try a holiday involving a voluntourism component, in addition to the 6% who had already done so [9].

GeckoGo’s 2009 survey also revealed voluntourists’ preferences, although not UK specific include:

  • Duration: 44% prefer trips longer than one month, 42% between two weeks and a month.
  • Destinations: Peru (23%) and Brazil (14%) topped the polls (though an US respondents skew to shorter distances/cheaper opportunities could be responsible).
  • Project types: 62% would like to undertake humanitarian voluntourism, 56% conservation, 56% teaching, 53% community development and 28% construction.

However, without being able to define the scope and extent of the market, it is difficult to determine the best approach for regulation and auditing. Without regulation, negative impacts which may outweigh positive benefits warrant the critical scrutiny of much media coverage, potentially adding greater value to the industry through debating the multi-lateral collaborative stakeholder approach required than any market statistics would [10][11]..

Have you seen further statistics on the volunteer tourism market size?
Please do contribute them in the comments below!

***

1. Rogers, M. (2007) Voluntourism is on the Rise. Travel Agent, 17 September, pp.20-24.
2. Birrell, I. (2010) Before you pay to volunteer abroad, think of the harm you might do. Guardian.co.uk [Internet], 14 November. Accessed [04 September 2012].
3. Morgan, J (2010) Volunteer Tourism: What Are The Benefits For International Development?. The Voluntourist Newsletter [Internet], 6 (2) n.d., Accessed [10 September 2012].
4. Center for Civil Society Studies (n.d.) About Volunteer Measurement [Internet] Maryland, USA, John Hopkins University. Accessed [05 September 2012].
5. Johnson, 2005, cited in Mdee, A. & Emmott, R. (2008) Social enterprise with international impact: the case for Fair Trade certification of volunteer tourism. Education, Knowledge and Economy, 2 (3) November, pp.191-201.
6. Mintel (2008) Volunteer Tourism – International. London, UK, Mintel International Group Limited.
7. Stein, N. (2012a) Is 2012 the year of the volunteer tourist?. Travelmole [Internet], 17 January. Accessed [05 January 2013].
8. Leigh, R. (2011) State of the World’s Volunteerism Report. New York, USA, United Nations Volunteers.
9. Mintel, 2012
10. Clemmons, D. (2011) VolunTourism 2011: What Does It Mean To Be A ‘Top Travel Trend’?. Voluntourism.org [Internet Blog].[Accessed 04 September 2012].
11. Clemmons, D. (2011) What Can VolunTourism Learn from the Debate on “Gamification”?. Voluntourism.org [Internet Blog].[Accessed 04 September 2012].

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2 Responses to What is the size of the voluntourism market?

  1. Such a hard thing to quantify! Even if you try and simplify by focusing on just one ‘hot spot’ of voluntourism such a Cambodia. There are over 3000 NGOs (with a small percentage coming and going each year) the majority of which don’t have the ‘manpower’ to keep track of the numbers that come from third party organisations and independent travellers. So everyone we talked to (researching for UNSUNG HEROES CAMBODIA book) said numbers are growing. But is that perhaps because the number of third party organisers (which are profiteers) are growing and doing a good job of recruiting? It’s the old chicken or egg dilemma …

    • That’s another really good point Shawna. If you count volunteers in destinations with NGOs and count volunteers recruited through third party sending organisations, you’re going to possibly be counting duplicates. Perhaps any measure, if possible. should only count in-destination volunteers, or only count them from recruiting organisations. Either way, it’s probably unmanageable as you say, and what really matters is not the numbers so much as the impacts. Though the increasing popularity, when programs aren’t run responsibly, does of course mean amplified negative impacts :(

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