The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and Planeterra, a non-profit foundation dedicated to sustainable community development and environmental conservation through travel, are collaborating to develop a set of criteria that will help international voluntourism providers plan and manage their programs in a responsible and sustainable manner.
An increasing number of travel companies are adding volunteer opportunities to their tour itineraries worldwide, and the trend, which is now commonly known as voluntourism, is growing rapidly. According to a 2009 Green Traveler Study by CMIGreen, 59.1% of those surveyed said they were interested in volunteering during a future trip.
With this growth, a myriad of issues and challenges has emerged, including: project development concerns, impacts on host communities, travelers' skills and experiences, and the potentials for positive change. There is an increasing need for effective tools that help providers and travelers make smart decisions. The goal of the TIES-Planeterra effort is to address these challenges and to outline parameters that will guide both project leaders and travelers alike.
"Travelers are searching for new authentic experiences worldwide, like voluntours, that put them face to face with some of our most important global challenges," said Megan Epler Wood, Executive Director of Planeterra. "There are now more opportunities for travelers with skills, in areas like engineering and health care, to assist local communities and help develop beneficial projects, like assisting with clinics and developing clean water systems for villages that lack adequate services," said Epler Wood.
To ensure that this project incorporates a diverse range of industry knowledge and experiences, TIES and Planeterra are working with an International Expert Committee representing a variety of industry sectors and regions:
Bodhi Garrett, Co-Director, Andaman Discoveries, Thailand
Valeria Gracia, Asociación Civil Voluntario Global, Argentina
Sallie Grayson, Programme Director, People and Places, U.K.
Nancy McGehee, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Virginia Tech University, U.S.A.
Paul and Thandi Miedema, Founders, Calabash Tours, South Africa
Kristin Lamoureux, Ph.D., Director, International Institute of Tourism Studies, The George Washington University School of Business, U.S.A.
Lelei LeLaulu, President, Community Benefit Development and Co-chairman, Innovation for Sustainable Development Centre, U.S.A.
Daniela Ruby Papi, Founder, PEPY Tours, Cambodia
Gopinath Parayil, Founder and Chief Executive, The Blue Yonder, India
Marnie Heim-Stafford and Jeremy Stafford, Owners, Voluntours, South Africa
Andy Woods-Ballard, Director of Operations, Global Vision International, U.K.
Dr. Stephen Wearing, Associate Professor, University of Technology, Australia
“We are thrilled to be collaborating with industry leaders and voluntourism experts from around the world,” says Dr. Kelly Bricker, Chair, TIES Board of Directors. "We believe that there are a number of opportunities to apply lessons learned from the ecotourism community’s experiences in the past couple of decades to effectively support voluntourism in order to maximize positive impacts of the power of travel."
"Our first priority is to develop, through an interdisciplinary approach, sound guidelines for voluntourism activities that will serve as a practical tool for voluntourism providers," says Megan Epler Wood of Planeterra. "This tool will both complement existing knowledge and make an important contribution to ongoing efforts to develop and grow voluntourism in a socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable manner."
Planeterra was founded in 2003 by Gap Adventures, the largest independent adventure travel company in the world, and is a leading international organization promoting voluntourism activities, which give back to destinations and contribute to the sustainable development of communities.
"It’s very rewarding to see Planeterra and TIES leading this work to establish guidelines that will ensure the long-term health and well-being of communities and destinations around the world," says Gap Adventures Marketing Director, Richard Edwards. "We believe the guidelines will serve as an important tool for voluntourism providers – from large global companies like Gap Adventures to small-scale local community enterprises."
The research project will incorporate a global survey program to be undertaken in May 2011 and stakeholder meeting, which will be held Sept. 19-21 during the upcoming Ecotourim and Sustainable Tourism Conference organized by TIES in Hilton Head Island, SC. TIES will produce the final draft for expert committee review and publication in early 2012.