Dr. Stephen Wearing and Dr. Nancy Gard McGehee have compiled a comprehensive review of the academic literature on volunteer tourism and voluntourism, stepping back almost two decades, at some points. The article entitled “Volunteer tourism: A review” appears in the October 2013 issue of Tourism Management, and is fully accessible for viewing through the newly redesigned Elsevier website.
Anyone who has been in the volunteer travel space for even a short period of time can benefit from reading through this ten-page article. Here are some highlights worth considering:
+ The “Introduction” provides a good overview of the growth and development of volunteer tourism/voluntourism in the marketplace and in the academic literature
+ The “Evolution of volunteer tourism” presents more in-depth coverage in the academic literature, recognizing the shifting views of academic thought on the subject, and similarities to the unfoldment of academic literature on tourism – a four-step process (Jafari 2001): advocacy, cautionary, adaptancy, and scientific platforms. What the authors point out is that volunteer tourism literature seems to be moving much more quickly through this process, at almost double the pace of tourism literature
+ The “Pre-trip motivations” section is quite helpful for voluntourism programming staff and those who are running voluntourism programs. The academic literature has done a solid job over the years of getting a sense of who the potential volunteer tourist/voluntourist is. Most important, not everyone is created the same and the mindsets of potential participants deserve some serious consideration. After all, as a provider of volunteer travel experiences, you may not want to attract a certain type of volunteer tourist.
+ “Agents of change? The role of volunteer tourism organizations in the journey” is a section worth reading for executive directors and owner/operators of volunteer tourism programs. The shaping of the sector originally came from NGOs, but the last decade has seen the influence of for-profit actors stepping into the space and changing the landscape significantly.
+ “At the destination: a community-centered approach” brings readers to the heart of volunteer tourism; arguably, without communities, there simply would be no volunteer tourism. The authors discuss some pretty heady subjects – decommodification, as an example, but taken in context, certainly understandable.
+ “Reflections and transformations: the return home” delivers some thoughts on what happens to volunteer tourists once they are back in their respective home destinations. Are they different? Have they changed their views of the world around them? Are there thoughts about the impacts they can make more realistic?
+ “Conclusion” builds the case for more academic research on volunteer tourism. There is ample room for additional research, as the authors point out. They also share some of the very pertinent challenges for the sector as it evolves and discuss, as an example, certification and criteria around best practices.
Overall, it is recommended that everyone in the sector take a look at this article. Have a notepad ready, of course, you will need it!