Can Communities Become an Integral Part of Voluntourism Marketing?

IJCHOne of the items that has continually served as a point of contention for the intersection of voluntary service and travel & tourism has been the absence of communities in the marketing of these experiences to would-be participants. Communities are almost hidden from the marketing of these experiences. There are likely at least two or three reasons behind this, but are they strong enough to continue to place communities as an after-thought?

Recent Research

In the most recent issue (2014, #4) of the International Journal of Communication and Health, authors Ben Wilkinson, Judith McCool and Genevieve Bois have presented their findings regarding voluntourism marketing in their article entitled “Voluntourism: an analysis of the online marketing of a fast-growing industry.” It bears review, particularly for those who are interested in developing a more community-integrated approach to existing trends in voluntourism marketing as an alternative to those which appear to relegate communities to an obscure position in the overall “pitching” of these experiences to potential voluntourists.

Wilkinson, et al., bring our attention to the participant-centric [read “egocentric” and “ethno-centric,” as opposed to “world-centric” (see discussion below)] patterns of marketing. The authors identify three main categories under which a subsection of themes is presented. The first of these is “Personal.” Within this category we find: 1) egoism, 2) altruism, 3) travel with a “purpose,” 4) organisational goal, and 5) destination. The second category is “Interpersonal.” The subsection of this category contains: 1) authentic experience, cultural immersion, cross-cultural understanding and global awareness, 2) encouraged by others, 3) enhancing relationships and seeking camaraderie. The third of these is “Voluntourist facilitators.” Captured within this category are: 1) security/safety, 2) project content, 3) price, 4) time, 5) location/accessibility, and 6) life cycle.

The authors provide examples of each of the themes so that readers can have a better sense of the language associated with them. They utilize examples from companies and NGOs so that a reader can easily visit the websites of these entities and hone in on the specific usage of language in order to interpret the experience.

Why Is Voluntourism Marketing Typically Void of Community-centric Language?

There are a couple of items that I think we can explore here. Let’s start with competition. If you are of a mindset that you are competing with other entities to attract would-be voluntourists to your program, then you are likely to be less revealing about your relationships and connections at the community level. This has been a trend within the realm of competitive business from the beginning. Given that many individuals are schooled in a similar system of business marketing, it is no surprise that relationships are held as sacred and secret. Otherwise, one’s competitors will come along and nurture a new relationship and the existing operation may be compromised, or worse yet, eliminated.

The second item we might explore is perspective. The leading entities in the voluntourism space have held a certain perspective about voluntourism, and, as it turns out, are marketing to audiences which hold a certain perspective. This is neither good nor bad, it just is. As we begin to unfold new developmental levels for human beings and begin to understand more about the complexity of what makes us human, we are seeing that there is a vast difference between those with an egocentric, ethnocentric or a world-centric view. (See graphic below.) Most business are built with an egocentric (me or mine) or ethnocentric (Us vs. Them) mentality, especially marketing & communications – it’s all about the brand, after all. Additionally, the audiences to whom they have traditionally marketed have primarily fallen into those two categories.

However, if you consider the levels of ego & consciousness development presented in the diagram below, you will see that we have introduced some new levels of development since the business world set forth the philosophic underpinnings of marketing & communications back in the late 50’s and early 60’s. The “world-centric view,” for example, does not come online until an individual has reached an ego-development level of at least an “Achiever.” If we consider that the individuals responsible for marketing voluntourism experiences are likely to fall into the category of “Expert” with some possibly having stretched into an “Achiever” space, it is very difficult to hold a World-centric view. In order to consider host communities AND would-be voluntourists in the context of marketing & communications, the individuals guiding the marketing and communications of voluntourism products & services essentially must have developed themselves to a point of holding a world-centric view. Notably, at least for the voluntourism space, this has not occurred unilaterally (look at the findings of Wilkinson, et al., to get a sense of this), although it may be occurring on a case-by-case basis.

AQAL-map

SOURCE: Timeless Wisdom Project

Final Thoughts…

If we want to see a shift in voluntourism marketing & communications, we have to undergo a shift in the leadership capacity and levels of human development experienced by those who are leading the voluntourism industry. This is by no means an easy feat. Nevertheless, we do have tools and understanding being provided for us all to increase our awareness of ego & consciousness development. The work of Ken Wilber, Susanne Cook-Greuter, Terri O’Fallon, Bill Torbert and others across the globe are beginning to shed light on these important levels of consciousness and their implications in everything from business marketing & communications to art, law, medicine and even governance.

The point here is that we have a choice. Voluntourism marketing & communications need not remain an expression of an egocentric or ethno-centric view. Voluntourism can graduate to expressing itself in a manner that is aligned with a world-centric view, one that equally considers the entire collective of stakeholders interdependently cooperating to make voluntourism possible. Voluntourism appears to be an expression of wanting to move from an egocentric and/or ethnocentric view to a world-centric view. The people drawn to voluntourism are likely moving out of the “Red,” “Amber,” and early “Orange” stages depicted in the diagram above, into later stages of human development. This is encouraging and should be encouraging for all of us. What’s more, voluntourism may serve as a mechanism, a catalyst if you will, for supporting the ongoing development of all of the individuals interdependently connected by it. And, this is what should really excite us!

Voluntourism isn’t perfect by any means, and held as a panacea, it is even less so. Yet, there is something here worthy of our closer inspection. Voluntourism has transformation as an underlying element. It catalyzes. Is it assisting us in expanding our collective consciousness? This question deserves some real exploration and hopefully researchers can begin to uncover how, if at all, voluntourism is altering our individual and collective consciousness.

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