Good or Bad?
We have always been interested in serving, giving back, and participating in the communities we travel to as much as possible. We believe there are some amazing benefits to volunteering as a family. But did you know there’s a whole sector of travel tourism called “volunteer-tourism”?
Here in Cusco Peru, volunteer-tourism is a large contributor to the overall tourism economy. We were luck to meet an American college student who was concerned about all the different aspects of this form of tourism and is writing her senior thesis on the subject. We sat down with Emma Redfoot to talk about the effects of this trend, on both the volunteers and the communities being served.
Emma’s research questions:
Why do international travelers volunteer in Cusco, Peru?
Is volunteer tourism a form of crisis heterotopias that people orient toward when heterotopias such as travel, work, and consumption are unfulfilling?
How is volunteering fulfilling an identity need for the western volunteers participating?
Can an attachment to a community and place that is not a permanent home fulfill the same needs that a longer term place based relationship creates?
How do the businesses creating these organizations market to the wants of their customers? How are they reflective of the volunteers themselves?
What economic and cultural impacts do these volunteer projects have on the host country? What public policies does the host country pursue to promote or control voluntourism?
How do the communities being helped feel about the volunteers?
Listen to the interview below to discover her findings:
Situating the Global Environment – Lewis & Clark College Environmental Studies Program
Volunteer tourism as defined by Stephen Wearing in Volunteer Tourism: Experiences that make a Difference is a term that applies “to those tourists who, for various reasons, volunteer in an organized way to undertake holidays that might involve aiding or alleviating the material poverty of some groups in society, the restoration of certain environments, or research into certain aspects of society or environment.”(2011, 1) Volunteer tourism, on an international scale, essentially means people going to help other places with their free time as well as tourist money. As volunteer tourism includes leaving one’s home, these volunteers are not helping a place they are going to enjoy the betterment of. Furthermore, I am interested in researching those volunteers who pay to volunteer, are not affiliated with a faith based organization, are volunteering for at least a month but no more than 10 months, and are not specifically volunteering to get experience in their field. My current research on volunteer tourists has indicated a strong demographic connection between people going through their odyssey years, the period of wandering to find oneself during one’s 20s, and volunteer tourists. This project will be situated in Cusco, Peru the tourism capitol of South America due to its proximity to Machu Picchu. I will research different volunteer tourism projects in Cusco as well as contrast their characteristics with the long term traveler culture prevalent in Cusco.
Emma is an adventurer, an artist, a cynic, an environmentalist, a Montanan, a civil libertarian, a humanist and a lot of other labels that she’s not quite sure she understands the full depth of their meaning. Emma is, more concretely, an Environmental studies major at Lewis and Clark College.
For more on Emma’s research visit her web site.
What do you think?