Article Words : Adrian Yalland | 01 June

Is voluntourism doing any good? Yes!

The 'Different Travel' organisations explains how it is unlike other ethical tour operators, and how it has facilitated over £50,000 of investment into community regeneration projects in the past two years

As a ‘voluntourism’ operator, we know the sector has had its critics over the past year. And we believe that much of that criticism is valid! There have been numerous reports of volunteers going overseas armed with good intentions only to be disillusioned because their expectations were not matched, or they felt they achieved very little of value for the local community.

Naturally this frustrates those operators who operate ethically and honestly, and who try to do the best for the tourist and community. It isn’t fair that we are all tarred with the same brush. Part of the problem is that there is no ‘code of practice’ to regulate companies such as ours. Therefore, there is no real complaint or evaluation process to prevent and redress abuse, so the value of what the tourist achieves can vary from operator to operator.

That is why Different Travel supports Tourism Concern’s attempts to instigate a code of practice for the voluntourism sector, which we believe will ensure minimum standards of practice are put in place, and will prevent exploitation. We believe it will drive up standards – good operators have nothing to fear from being more open about their operational practices.

Well-organised voluntourism can be a really good thing for local and tourist alike. It offers insights and experiences that normal tourism cannot. It also builds bridges and friendships – and given the thousands of pounds invested in overseas projects, voluntourism brings real benefit to local communities.

£50K investment into community regeneration

For example, Different Travel has facilitated over £50,000 of investment into projects such as community regeneration, housing and school refurbishment in the past two years. We have also worked with local communities to instigate grass roots action to care for disadvantaged people in their own neighbourhood. Later this year we will be taking David Cameron and 50 MPs to Rwanda to get involved in projects such as refurbishing a centre for genocide survivors.

The secret for us is choosing our projects well and approaching them ethically. We use project evaluation methods that many aid organisations would recognise. We have staff who have spent decades working in international development, and we work with the local people to meet and fund objectives.

We only take on projects where we can afford to finish the job, and employ local labour to create in-country employment. In short, everything we do is about meeting the three objectives of educating the tourist, rewarding their efforts, and helping the local community achieve self-sufficiency.

Finally, we regularly review our practices. We survey each person we take overseas to ensure they felt the information we gave them prior to departure was accurate, that they contributed positively to the community, and that they felt rewarded. More than 95% of people on our holidays say they felt they contributed positively – and more importantly, they would come on another holiday with us.

That one statistic speaks more about the value of voluntourism than all of the bad news stories put together!