Voluntourism – What’s Not To Hate?


Image from “HotelsCheap.org”

Confounding neologism that it is, and utterly repulsive to the non-self-indulgent of our planet, it is difficult to find anything of merit when it comes to intersecting voluntary service and travel. At every turn, there is ample ammunition to maintain the functionality of even the most inaccurate of firing squads. Sometimes, it appears that the greatest service voluntourism has to offer the world is as a punching bag for our collective self-loathing. What we may hate in ourselves, but be unwilling to own or admit, we can project onto voluntourism, because it is just so appalling to our sensibilities. Whoever thought that travel & tourism could become conscientious? Idiotic, indeed.

Yet, in our present world situation, we need everything, and I mean EVERY THING, to grow a conscience. Maybe voluntourism is not a word that people like, maybe it is filled with flagrant misrepresentations of what may or may not be possible. Somehow, though, we need a reminder that our survival as a species depends on our ability to integrate the most awfully-perplexing aspects of ourselves with the hope of our cooperative kinship. If the “fracking” operator feels disconnected from the whole, how can s/he feel that the planet’s, and most apropos, humanity’s, survival lies in the balance of her/his activities?

Travel & tourism represents one of the largest industries in the world. It is a service-based industry, this means that people who generally step into the workspace realize that, on some level, they need to be of service. Is this so diametrically opposed to voluntary service? The attitude seems consistent, however, we have an extraordinary disconnect. Or do we?

Service Is As Service Does

If there is one thing we can really hate about voluntourism, it has to be our expectations of it. We put tights and a cape on voluntourism and expect it to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Unless we are writing a comic book, slating voluntourism as the heroine, this seems to be a fantasy on the road to nowhere. Yet we keep sidling up to voluntourism as though it is meant to save us from something. Granted, there is a lot to be saved from, we have gotten ourselves into a hornets’ nest worth of troubles. But why has voluntourism become the poster child for rescuing the planet?

We need to let our service speak for itself, as a gesture, not an answer, not a solution. We pick voluntourism apart because it isn’t service-full enough, because it doesn’t leave a legacy of change for generations to come. Yet this raises a question: Is anything truly sustainable on a planet that has already passed the 350 mark?

Final Thoughts…

iec_headlogo_326x101I am leaving later today for Budapest, Hungary, to attend the Integral European Conference. There will be a number of noted speakers there discussing the importance of integration and inter-penetration of philosophies, business, society, and the public sector, to name a few. Not surprisingly, there will be no one talking about the integration of travel & tourism and voluntary service into the grand scheme of waking up humanity to a more well-rounded awareness of itself, its interdependence with Nature, and beyond. We haven’t gotten to this point in our view of voluntourism as an essential element of human life practice. It will happen, of course, we just haven’t arrived at that station quite yet.

Voluntourism is catalyzing some of the most heated debates that the travel & tourism and social sectors have seen in quite some time. We might want to pay closer attention to this, if for no other reason than to uncover why voluntourism is so hated. If one word, one concept, can generate this kind of social media coverage (and don’t forget the mainstream media coverage, as well), we have to consider that we have found something of value, or, at the very least, something worth exploring further.

For now, we will have to settle with the controversial nature of voluntourism as we deal with our tension around integration. I am hopeful that I will learn some things while in Budapest this week that I can share with you in terms of research and discussions on the human response to integration. The hatred for voluntourism may actually be a sign of progress. I certainly hope so.



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