Boom in volunteer tourism raises concerns over lack of oversight

Children-are-not-tourist-attractions1Rapid growth in the multi-billion dollar volunteer tourism industry has prompted calls for tighter controls with concerns over exposing vulnerable communities to unskilled foreign labor and dodgy operators exploiting foreigners for profit. Voluntourism, which allows socially conscious holiday-makers to pay thousands of dollars to work in poor communities across South America, Asia and Africa, has become a boom sector of the global travel industry.

Voluntourism proponents dispute the claim that the industry is doing more harm than good, citing numerous schools and homes that would not have been built without voluntourists and their funding.  Critics, however, warn the lack of oversight means volunteers can easily end up in parts of the world without the skills needed to help, take away local jobs, and form bonds with children in need that are short-lived.

In Brief
  • Nancy Gard McGehee, an expert on sustainable tourism at the US university Virginia Tech, says as many as 10 million volunteers a year are spending up to $2 billion on the opportunity to travel with a purpose.
  • Carnival Corp, the world’s largest cruise operator, this month announced a “social impact” cruise, which allows travellers to take part in three days of volunteering, helping to cultivate cacao plants, building water filters and teaching English.
  • In the wake of the April 25 earthquake in Nepal, the United Nations children’s agency, Unicef, said it became alarmed by reported cases of child trafficking, calling on orphanages and volunteer agencies to stop sending more willing workers.
In Depth
Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith is the editor and co-founder of Travindy. He is a writer and communications consultant working for a more responsible and sustainable tourism industry. He is the author of two books, writes a fortnightly blog on responsible tourism for World Travel Market, and provides consultancy to a wide range of companies and organisations, ranging from National Parks to individual hotels and tour operators.

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