Volunteer Tourism: Positive Benefits and Impressive Negatives

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Words: 1641 |

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9 min read

Published: Aug 30, 2022

Words: 1641|Pages: 4|9 min read

Published: Aug 30, 2022

Volunteer tourists’ demographics profiles are comparable to those of adventure tourism. The demographic profile of volunteer tourists is mainly young people who are free from responsibilities, for example, university/gap year students aged between 18-25 years Novelli. Mintel agrees with Novelli  and further went on to add that most projects are suitable for gap year students hence why they dominate the volunteer market. Career breakers/young professionals aged between 25-39 years and baby boomers are also considered to participate in volunteer tourism. Similarly, Mintel indicates that the demographic profiles of adventure tourists' participants are mainly baby boomers aged between 50 years+, millennials aged between 18-35 years, families and couples and which are mostly women. The age categories of volunteer tourism are very similar to the age categories of adventure tourism, although the older generation dominates adventure tourism, while the younger one dominates voluntary tourism. Volunteer and adventure tourism are similar because participants need to be more financially stable to take part in both niches because volunteer and adventure tourism is often more expensive than an average holiday.

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Preceding research indicates that people are motivated to engage in volunteer and adventure tourism for different reasons, which can be regarded as the motivating factors to travel. The push and pull factor for travel and destination are the motivation behind tourism.

For decades, volunteer tourism has become one of the fastest-growing forms of travel in the world which was encouraged by the driving force of alternative tourism and the pull force of the need to volunteer. Unlike volunteer tourism, adventure tourism is encouraged by the pull factor of excitement and adrenaline. Although some authors might argue that the risk of the activity is what motivates participants to engage in adventure tourism, volunteer tourism participants are generally motivated by altruistic and personal reasons. For example, professionals are motivated to participate in this form of niche tourism because of networking opportunities, competitive advantage in the job market, to gain work experience etc. While personal motivation reasons may include, to add value to a cv, the will to learn more about the host community’s culture and the desire to give back etc. In contrast, it has been stated by Mintel that health and wellness is the main motivation for adventure tourism participants over 60s, however Giddy argues that it is the thrill of the adventure. Wearing and Grabowski state that there are four main points on why individuals are motivated to participate in volunteer tourism.

These points include the authenticity of interacting with people from a different culture, seeking mutual friendship and trusts among people, family bonding, and the need for change. Compared to volunteer tourism participants, adventure tourists are also motivated to participate to internally overcome fear, externally appreciate the beauty of nature and generally enjoy their time together as a family etc. and also adventure tourists are motivated to mentally and physically challenge their self’s. One similarity between both, volunteer and adventure tourism are the baby boomers' participants. Who are both motivated by the same reasons to engage in trying new adventures/activities because their busy career schedules and family lives they did not have time to do so, however, now that they are children have moved out, they have enough money and time to spend on travelling and take part in adventures/activities. Another similarity between the two tourism niche areas is gap year/university students and millennials that fall almost into the same age group.

Gap year/university student’s age group starts at 18 years to 25 years, while the millennials age group also starts at 18 years but however end at 35 years. However, they are motivated by different reasons to engage in the two forms of niche tourism. Millennials are motivated to engage in adventure tourism because of their keen interest in experiencing life, living in another country and expanding their knowledge while travelling, Whereas gap year/university students' participants in volunteer tourism who are motivated to offer their services to make a positive contribution to the community and also gain relevant skills needed to pursue their ideal career paths. Regarding research done by Soderman and Snead, in Guttentag  shows that gap year students are motivated to give back to the community because of the personal benefits they gain. In other words, this implies that if the benefits of volunteering were not present, gap year students will not likely be motivated to participate in volunteering.

While volunteer tourism predominantly presents lots of positive benefits to communities, they are however some negative impacts volunteer tourism presents. In this section, socio-cultural challenges of volunteer tourism to destinations will be discussed. Neglect of host communities’ needs is one of the negative impacts that volunteer tourism presents. Lyons and Wearing state that not all organisations are interested in making a profit. He went on further to point out that non-profit organisations (NGO's) are not interested in profit but rather they are concerned about meeting needs and wants of host communities. Nevertheless, some studies indicate that private organisations are driven to attract more volunteers to increase their profits than respecting the needs and wants of the host communities. This is evident in an Ecuadorian village, where volunteer tourists painted the houses of villagers while they were at work, which the villagers greatly disapproved.

This example shows that the volunteer program was not designed inline to address the real need of the locals, rather the organisation assumed they knew the needs and wants of the locals without consulting them first. Volunteering doesn’t require any skills for one to participate in, as a result, an organisation often place pre-medical volunteers in programs they are not professionally trained in because volunteering doesn’t require any skills for one to participate in. This can be very deadly to the host communities as volunteers are administering medical care, they are not trained in doing. This leads to locals having resentment towards volunteers. Another negative impact is the decrease in “labour demand and promotion of dependency”. Volunteers offering their services for free can disrupt host communities financially because locals are disempowered by the volunteer tourists who often do jobs, for example, build schools, which can instead be done by local people in order for them to earn a living. This, therefore, prevents self-development and encourage the dependency life cycle in host communities.

“Conceptualisations of the ‘other’ is another negative impact. Guttentag, 2009 in his study references on the study of Simpson who pointed out that in an interview with gap year student volunteers, most of them stressed the distinction between 'them' (the local people) and 'us' (the volunteers). This then suggests that volunteer tourism projects may reduce the sense of obligation and control of locals, as locals feel inferior because of the treatment they receive from volunteers. The concept of 'they and us' also emphasises concepts of racism, imperialism and globalisation, which petitions the conceptualization of the 'other'. Simpson study was backed by Raymond and Hall based on their findings, which also confirmed that some stereotypes of volunteers were improved instead of being reduced. This then implies organisations use false marketing strategies to attract more volunteers, therefore volunteers are given false information about their volunteer projects hence why the concept of 'other'. Lastly, cultural change instigation is another negative impact cause by volunteer tourism and affects the host communities as volunteers often unknowingly tarnish social customs and implore notions of globalization and Western imperialism. Which leads host communities changing the way they live, their dressing, behaviour even abolishing their traditions and culture.

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In conclusion, although there are many positive benefits and prospects for development in the future of adventure tourism, the sector is equally ripe with challenges. The motivational side of volunteering can undoubtedly be considered as its advantage, because motivated volunteers do their work more willingly. But at the same time, there are a number of disadvantages of volunteering that cannot be replaced by existing advantages.


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Volunteer Tourism: Positive Benefits and Impressive Negatives. (2022, August 30). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from
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