What is Voluntourism?

“Voluntourism” is the intersection of international volunteering and tourism [1], also called variously “volunteer tourism”, “volunteer holidays” and “volunteer travel”.

It is “the practice of individuals going on a working holiday, volunteering their labour for worthy causes” [2] such as “aiding or alleviating the material poverty of some groups in society; the restoration of certain specific environments or research into aspects of society or environment”, “for various reasons”, “in an organised way” [3], “alongside touristic activities”. [4]

Visitors whose work is remunerated at a destination are excluded from tourism (UNWTO, 1998), thus paid working holidays or international development volunteering differ from voluntourism. Rather, voluntourism usually involves some fee to participate [5]. According to the UNWTO definition (1995), tourism thus voluntourism, can be domestic or international, from any originating market and up to one consecutive year.

The absence of exact definition can mean lines are blurred between what constitutes voluntourism, versus volunteerism or tourism, adding to difficulties in industry measurement and regulation.

Voluntourism is often promoted as a way to experience authenticity within the context of alternative tourism beneficial to destinations, leading to expectations of a responsible tourism ethos, creating “better places for people to live in, and better places to visit” [6].

However, as voluntourism grows in popularity, there are increasing reports of dissatisfaction of the experience and lack of accountability. Questions are increasingly being raised over misconceived idealism and the true value and costs of voluntourism with regard to the sustainability triple bottom line of maximizing benefits and minimising costs of economic growth, environmental integrity and social justice [7], “ultimately benefiting no one apart from the travel companies that organise them” according to VSO in 2007. [8]

What’s your definition of voluntourism?
All contributions and discussion welcome via feedback below.

1. Clemmons D., 2012, Voluntourism: ‘A new future for aid’
2. & 5 Tomazos, K., 2009, Volunteer Tourism, an ambiguous phenomenon: An analysis of the demand and supply for the volunteer tourism market
3. Wearing, S. 2007, p.1, Swimming Against the Mainstream – Volunteering for Tourism
4. Hesdin, 2012, The Evolution of Voluntourism
6. Cape Town Declaration, 2002
7. Elkington, J., 1997, Cannibals with Forks: Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business; & Goodwin, H., 2011, Taking Responsibility for Tourism
8. Brodie, cited in Ward, L., 2007, You’re better off backpacking – VSO warns about perils of ‘voluntourism’ in the Guardian.co.uk

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9 Responses to What is Voluntourism?

  1. Pingback: catch up on recent media coverage of volunteer travel | people and places

  2. Pingback: What is the size of the voluntourism market? | VolunteerTourismViews

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  4. Pingback: CRUISE: Voluntourism goes to sea

  5. Pingback: CRUISE: Voluntourism goes to sea - I'm Black and I Travel!

  6. Pingback: What is Voluntourism? | keswickdogs

  7. Pingback: voluntourism – Time Well Spent Vacations & Centre Holidays Inc

  8. Pingback: Voluntourism – Obibini Bruni

  9. Pingback: Why You Should Stop Romanticising Poverty

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