Vol­un­teer­land

Tourism Tattler - - EDITORIAL - By Jennifer Wood­bridge.

Find­ings from the lat­est WYSE Travel Con­fed­er­a­tion re­port on vol­un­teer travel, sug­gest that vol­un­tourism con­trib­utes to­wards the UN Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals, brings tourism spend into lo­cal economies, and fosters a form of cul­tural ex­change deemed mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial by all stake­hold­ers.

Econ­o­mists es­ti­mate that at least 971 mil­lion peo­ple vol­un­teer each year across the globe, whether through an or­gan­i­sa­tion or other in­ter­me­di­ary or di­rectly with per­sons out­side of one’s house­hold (Sala­mon et al).

The sheer num­ber of vol­un­teers has led to a com­par­a­tive ref­er­ence – ‘Vol­un­teer­land’. If the world’s vol­un­teers were to form a sin­gle coun­try, known as Vol­un­teer­land, they would form the largest adult pop­u­la­tion in the world, be­hind only China.

Their to­tal eco­nomic value is es­ti­mated at more than 1.3 tril­lion US dol­lars – mak­ing Vol­un­teer­land the seventh largest econ­omy in the world, be­hind the US, Ja­pan, Ger­many, China, the UK and France.

How­ever, within youth travel, WYSE Travel Con­fed­er­a­tion es­ti­mates vol­un­teer travel as one of the smaller sec­tors or niches of youth travel as a whole. It ac­counts for about 2% to 5% of global youth travel or 5.4 to 10+ mil­lion ar­rivals of the 270+ mil­lion. The rea­son for what seems to be an im­pre­cise range is that young trav­ellers typ­i­cally have mul­ti­ple pur­poses for trav­el­ling and vol­un­teer ac­tiv­i­ties could be un­der­taken as part of a trip with other pur­poses, such as an aca­demic or gap year abroad, lan­guage im­mer­sion, an in­tern­ship, or even a hy­brid vol­un­teer-hol­i­day trip.

That said, vol­un­teer travel can be viewed as high im­pact when we look at the ben­e­fits for the trav­eller, the vol­un­teer project, and the lo­cal host com­mu­nity.

Find­ings out­lined in the lat­est WYSE Travel Con­fed­er­a­tion re­port on vol­un­teer travel, ‘Project per­spec­tives on the ben­e­fits of vol­un­teer travel’ sug­gest that in­ter­na­tional vol­un­teer­ing con­trib­utes to­wards the UN Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals, brings tourism spend into lo­cal economies that might not oth­er­wise ben­e­fit from main­stream tourism, and fosters a form of cul­tural ex­change deemed mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial by all stake­hold­ers.

Projects host­ing in­ter­na­tional vol­un­teers also re­ported be­ing highly sat­is­fied with both their pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ships with vol­un­teer-send­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions and preparedness lev­els of the vol­un­teers those or­gan­i­sa­tions send.

As vol­un­teer trav­ellers are hosted by a project and com­mu­nity, the global as­so­ci­a­tion rep­re­sent­ing busi­nesses in­volved in youth, stu­dent and ed­u­ca­tional travel, WYSE Travel Con­fed­er­a­tion, and its Cul­tural Ex­change Ad­vi­sory Panel, en­deav­oured to gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the ben­e­fits of vol­un­teer travel for not only trav­ellers, but the projects and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties host­ing vis­it­ing vol­un­teers.

“When you con­sider the ben­e­fits for the trav­eller, the vol­un­teer project, and the lo­cal host com­mu­nity, vol­un­teer travel is high im­pact,” said David Chap­man, Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of WYSE Travel Con­fed­er­a­tion.

Vol­un­teer travel is pop­u­lar among young peo­ple who would like a unique ex­pe­ri­ence com­bin­ing work and travel. It ac­counts for an es­ti­mated 2 to 5 per­cent of global youth travel or 5.4 to 10 mil­lion of the more than 270 mil­lion ar­rivals per year. Vol­un­teers con­trib­ute a con­sid­er­able num­ber of work days and spend in lo­cal economies and, ac­cord­ing to WYSE Travel Con­fed­er­a­tion re­search, are among those young trav­ellers that stay the long­est and spend the most.

“Neg­a­tive me­dia at­ten­tion on in­ter­na­tional vol­un­teer­ing has por­trayed the vol­un­teer travel ex­pe­ri­ence as the province of the priv­i­leged sim­ply want­ing to broaden their cul­tural knowl­edge at the ex­pense of oth­ers. This is not an ac­cu­rate or fair pic­ture,” said Bas­tian Wein­berger, a mem­ber of the WYSE Travel Con­fed­er­a­tion Cul­tural Ex­change Ad­vi­sory Panel and Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of Smaller Earth, a UK-based com­pany spe­cialised in work ex­pe­ri­ence travel for young peo­ple.

“Project per­spec­tives on the ben­e­fits of vol­un­teer travel is specif­i­cally about the or­gan­i­sa­tions and com­mu­ni­ties host­ing vol­un­teer trav­ellers and their opin­ions on in­ter­na­tional vol­un­teer ex­pe­ri­ences,” ex­plained Wein­berger.

Projects by re­gion: The dis­tri­bu­tion of vol­un­teer projects in the re­port em­pha­sises their con­cen­tra­tion in the Global South, with Africa, Latin America and Asia ac­count­ing for over 90% of re­ported projects.

The un­bal­anced me­dia por­trayal of in­ter­na­tional vol­un­teer­ing was de­bated at last year’s World Youth and Stu­dent Travel Con­fer­ence (WYSTC). Part of the dis­cus­sion high­lighted that trav­ellers con­tem­plat­ing in­ter­na­tional vol­un­teer ex­pe­ri­ences have ac­cess to more rat­ings and re­views than ever be­fore and that this has led to a ‘clean­ing up’ of the sec­tor. This has been viewed pos­i­tively by stake­hold­ers who ad­here to best prac­tices and qual­ity stan­dards. There was also con­sen­sus that a travel trade as­so­ci­a­tion like WYSE Travel Con­fed­er­a­tion helps to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the good play­ers from the bad ones.

Projects host­ing vol­un­teers be­lieve that UN Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals num­bers 3 and 4, Good Health and Well-Be­ing and Qual­ity Ed­u­ca­tion, were most sup­ported by the work done by in­ter­na­tional vol­un­teers, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

The re­port, Project per­spec­tives on the ben­e­fits of vol­un­teer travel, is the sec­ond part of a project ex­am­in­ing the per­ceived ben­e­fits of in­ter­na­tional vol­un­teer travel.

The first part of the project fo­cussed on the opin­ions of young vol­un­teer trav­ellers and cul­mi­nated in the pub­li­ca­tion De­vel­op­ment through vol­un­teer­ing over­seas: Per­cep­tions on per­sonal and project based im­pact. Both re­ports are free to down­load from the WYSE Travel Con­fed­er­a­tion web­site.

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