International Voluntourism Guidelines Research Launched

5 Apr 2011
Industry Leaders Collaborate to Create Global Initiative

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and Planeterra, a leading non-profit foundation dedicated to sustainable community development and environmental conservation through travel, are collaborating to develop a set of criteria that will help international voluntourism providers plan and manage their programs in a responsible and sustainable manner.

An increasing number of travel companies are adding volunteer opportunities to their tour itineraries worldwide, and the trend, which is now commonly known as voluntourism, is growing rapidly. The 2008 Condé Nast Traveler/MSNBC poll, for example, stated that the number of regular volunteer vacationers has doubled since 2002, and the number of those who have volunteered at least once has tripled. According to the 2009 Green Traveler Study by CMIGreen, 59.1% of those surveyed said they were interested in volunteering during a future trip.

With this growth, a myriad of issues and challenges has emerged, including: project development concerns, impacts on host communities, travelers' skills and experiences, and the potentials for positive change. There is an increasing need for effective tools that help providers and travelers make smart decisions. The goal of the TIES-Planeterra effort is to address these challenges and to outline parameters that will guide both project leaders and travelers alike.

“Travelers are searching for new authentic experiences worldwide, like voluntours, that put them face to face with some of our most important global challenges,” says Megan Epler Wood Executive Director of Planeterra. “There are now more opportunities for travelers with skills, in areas like engineering and health care, to assist local communities and help develop beneficial projects, like assisting with clinics and developing clean water systems for villages that lack adequate services ” says Epler Wood.

To ensure that this project incorporates a diverse range of industry knowledge and experiences, TIES and Planeterra are working with an International Expert Committee representing a variety of industry sectors and regions:

Bodhi Garrett, Co-Director, Andaman Discoveries, Thailand
Valeria Gracia, Asociación Civil Voluntario Global, Argentina
Sallie Grayson, Programme Director, People and Places, U.K.
Nancy McGehee, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Virginia Tech University, U.S.A.
Paul and Thandi Miedema, Founders, Calabash Tours, South Africa
Kristin Lamoureux, Ph.D., Director, International Institute of Tourism Studies, The George Washington University School of Business
Lelei LeLaulu, President, Community Benefit Development and Co-chairman, Innovation for Sustainable Development Centre, U.S.A.
Daniela Ruby Papi, Founder, PEPY Tours, Cambodia
Gopinath Parayil, Founder and Chief Executive, The Blue Yonder, India
Marnie Heim-Stafford and Jeremy Stafford, Owners, Voluntours, South Africa
Andy Woods-Ballard, Director of Operations, Global Vision International, U.K.
Dr. Stephen Wearing, Associate Professor, University of Technology, Australia

“We are thrilled to be collaborating with industry leaders and voluntourism experts from around the world,” said Dr. Kelly Bricker, Chair, TIES Board of Directors. “We believe that there are a number of opportunities to apply lessons learned from the ecotourism community’s experiences in the past couple of decades to effectively support voluntourism in order to maximize positive impacts of the power of travel.”

“Our first priority is to develop, through an interdisciplinary approach, sound guidelines for voluntourism activities that will serve as a practical tool for voluntourism providers,” said Megan Epler Wood of Planeterra. “This tool will both complement existing knowledge and make an important contribution to ongoing efforts to develop and grow voluntourism in a socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable manner.”

Planeterra was founded in 2003 by G Adventures, the largest independent adventure travel company in the world, and is a leading international organization promoting voluntourism activities, which give back to destinations and contribute to the sustainable development of communities.

“It’s very rewarding to see Planeterra and TIES leading this work to establish guidelines that will ensure the long-term health and well-being of communities and destinations around the world,” says G Adventures Marketing Director, Richard Edwards. “We believe the guidelines will serve as an important tool for voluntourism providers – from large global companies like G Adventures to small-scale local community enterprises.”

The research project will incorporate a global survey program to be undertaken in May 2011 and stakeholder meeting, which will be held Sept. 19-21 during the upcoming Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference organized by TIES in Hilton Head Island, SC. TIES will produce the final draft for expert committee review and publication in early 2012.

For more information on the TIES-Planeterra Voluntourism Guidelines project, see updates on: www.ecotourism.org/voluntourism.

About TIES
The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) is a non-profit association committed to promoting responsible tourism practices that benefit conservation and communities. Representing the voices of stakeholders from all corners of the world, TIES' global network supports and is supported by members from over 90 countries, who are leading the vital efforts to make travel and tourism more sustainable.

About Planeterra
Planeterra is a non-profit organization that helps empower local people to develop their communities, conserve cultures and create a humane and supportive system for their endeavors. The organization supports a steady cycle of giving and investment, via our global network of travel industry partners, in the social and environmental needs of people and places in the destinations we serve worldwide.