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How volunteering helps the local community: Positive impacts of volunteer tourism

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Volunteering is an integral part of society and there are a range of positive impacts of volunteer tourism. In my last post I explained what the benefits are to the tourist- see 20 reasons why you should volunteer: Benefits of volunteer tourism. Today I will follow on from this by explaining the positive impacts of volunteer tourism to the host community.

Recent years have seen travelling become more accessible, which has fuelled the emergence of volunteers within the tourism industry. This has formed the concept of ‘volunteer tourism’ or ‘voluntourism’.

Positive impacts of volunteer tourism

Positive impacts of volunteer tourism

The positive impacts of volunteer tourism are predominantly underpinned by academic research on the ideology that volunteer tourism can be used as a tool for of sustainable development.

In Wearing’s early work, he defined volunteer tourism as ‘aiding or alleviating the material poverty of some groups in society, the restoration of certain environments and research into aspects of society or environment’. His definition ethos clearly has a significant focus on the way in which volunteer tourism can benefit host communities, these are outlined below.

Volunteer tourism

Helping the host community

The most notable positive impact of volunteer tourism is its impact on the host community and there are many ways in which volunteer tourism helps the host community.

The ultimate aim of volunteer tourism is to improve the well-being and livelihoods of the host society and environment. This typically involves working with locals who are otherwise ignored or neglected by society in some way.  

First, volunteer tourism combines a foundation of support for an all rounded stronger community. And by stronger community, I refer to a community that has external support that heightens its internal strengths.

Secondly, a stronger community boosts community happiness. When a community feels stronger this feeling of strength transcends into a happy environment.

There are many ways that volunteer tourism can help a host community, some of which are discussed below.

You might also be interested in my post-20 reasons why you should volunteer: Benefits of volunteer tourism

Money is directed to areas that would not normally benefit from tourism

Undeveloped countries with an influx of volunteer tourism projects are not typically ‘hot listed’ for other forms of tourism, i.e. leisure tourism, business tourism or sport tourism. And therefore, communities do not receive the financial benefits that other communities may do.

Volunteer tourism projects are, in part, a solution to this problem because they allow for money to be directly placed into areas that would not normally benefit from tourism. This therefore provides substantial economic benefits for the host community. It is to believed that the volunteer tourism industry could be worth more than $173 billion dollars, thus demonstrating the worth that this could have for individual communities!

definition of volunteer tourism

TRAM (Tourism Research and Marketing) found in 2008 that volunteers typically pay on average £2,000 for the privilege of volunteering. This cost covers, housing, meals, projects, materials, administration and on-site staff support. This money fuels the necessary projects for the development of local communities.

Volunteer tourism projects not only provides a direct source of income, but the time and effort to conserve and preserve societies and environments provides a financial support in which host communities financially benefit from in the long-run.

Whilst, on the outset, this might seem like a large amount of money that is directed to said communities, it is not always as clear-cut as it may seem. With the rise of commercialism within the industry and for-profit host organisations, many have begun to question how much of the money spent by a volunteer actually goes to the local community. This is discussed further in my post on the commodification of volunteer tourism.

Enhanced cross-cultural understanding

When examining the positive impacts of volunteer tourism, some academics have found substantial evidence of enhanced cultural understanding (e.g. Coren and Gray, 2012; Palacios, 2010; Raymond and Hall, 2008).

Volunteering helps the local community by building the foundation for enhanced cross-cultural understanding by combining a variety of cultures, trends and geographic lines that would have otherwise be divided in the reality of a politically divided world.

The cohesion of cultures transcends insightful knowledge for the host community, providing them with personal opportunities to learn more about other communities and cultures outside of their environment.

Likewise, the volunteer tourists also learn from host communities and are provided with personal opportunities to learn more about the host culture and therefore this personal level of learning heightens cultural sensitivity and awareness.

You might also be interested in my post- ‘Volunteer tourism: The reasons why people volunteer

Reduction in racial, cultural and social boundaries

Reasons why people volunteer

Likewise, Raymond and Hall’s (2008) research on the positive impacts of volunteer tourism have found there to be reductions in racial, cultural and social boundaries between the volunteer tourist and the host.

By enhancing cross-cultural understandings, we inevitably reduce the context of racial, cultural and social boundaries. This is done through merging cultures, and social differences during volunteer projects.

The appreciation for cultural diversity and learning from other cultures and people increases respect and understanding.

During volunteer projects, racial, cultural and social differences are allied, providing a deeper understanding of one another’s differences.

Relationships are built during volunteer tourism projects and knowledge is shared amongst the host and tourists. These relationships heighten the level of knowledge learned from volunteer tourism, reduces the boundaries of racial, cultural and social remarks and works as a catalyst for encouraging a heightened awareness of such remarks and their impacts.

Volunteers can utilise their skills that locals may not have

There are many skills that volunteer tourists can bring to a local community, particularly skills that locals may not have. For example, teaching English is a very common voluntary project and provides host communities with basic knowledge of English language. This an area of particular personal interest as it was the topic of my PhD research. I have recently set up a website dedicated to the concept of TEFL tourism- click here to take a look!

In an article entitled ‘Volunteer tourism, development and education in a postcolonial world: conceiving global connections beyond aid’, author Carlos Palacios carried out an ethnographic study in Australia, focusing on an Australian program that organises short-term voluntary programmes for university students. His research discovered that such voluntary projects can provide local communities knowledge on basic life skills, like the English language, intercultural competence and awareness of global development.

benefits of volunteer tourism

Furthermore, volunteers are predominantly from Western societies were there is advanced knowledge on ecosystems and conservation strategies. The knowledge from Western societies is derived from actual research projects and therefore provides volunteers with advanced knowledge and understanding that can be utilised during their volunteer project.

There are a range of opportunities that volunteer tourism offers in terms of projects and activities. The range of opportunities reflect the number of skills volunteers can bring to the local community.

These projects and skills are;

Welfare skills for childcare, elderly, disabled and human right/legal.

Teaching skills for teaching a foreign language (TEFL) and sport coaching.

Environmental skills for natural conservation, wildlife protection and global warming.

Medical skills for hospital support and pandemic support (HIV, Ebola).

Building skills for construction and renovation.

Research skills for wildlife monitoring and land-mapping-zoning.

To see what opportunities are currently available, Click here for TEFL Jobs Board.

Enhanced social capital

Social capital is the resource in which social interaction and network opportunities take place and which enable a society to operate effectively.

Volunteer tourism in nature, merges different cultures and communities together, which can be beneficial for society, as evidenced in McGehee and Santos’ (2005) research on the positive impacts of volunteer tourism.

During volunteer tourism projects, trust is built, values are shared, and friendships are formed, all of which are critical in enhancing social capital.

You might also be interested in my post- ‘A definition of volunteer tourism: What is it and where does it fit in the broad tourism industry?

Contribution towards international development

The world is divided by two social parities: the developed world and the undeveloped/developing world.

The developing world, also referred to as undeveloped, is largely dominated by extreme poverty, with little stability to develop due to financial constraints and social limitations. Whereas, the developed world refers to nations that are largely more ‘modern’ in society and have the financial ability to ensure their economy, society and environment are managed and protected. 

Volunteer tourism projects allow both social parities to merge into one social construct. When the developed world becomes more involved in supporting the undeveloped world, we collectively work towards international development- In fact, all of the positive impacts mentioned above in some way work towards international development!

For more on international development in this context I recommend the text- Introduction to International Development: Approaches, Actors, Issues, and Practice by Paul Haslam, Jessica Shafer and Pierre Beaudet.

Conclusion: Positive impacts of volunteer tourism

The positive impacts of volunteer tourism highlighted above clearly reflects the expressions of several academics emphasising the way in which volunteer tourism can be used as a tool for sustainable development in the part of the world where it is needed. It is clear that each impact can multiply into multiple positive impacts.

Overall, volunteer tourism helps host communities economically, socially and environmentally. Economically it puts money into areas that would not normally benefit from tourism. Socially, it enhances cross-cultural understandings and reduces cultural, racial and social division between the developed and developing world. Environmentally, volunteer tourists can utilise their skills and knowledge on ecosystem and environmental conservation. ou are interested in taking part in a volunteer tourism project or if you are studying volunteer tourism, I recommend you take a look at some of my other posts on the topic, listed below-

Additional reading on volunteer tourism

There are some excellent resources on this topic. Here are a few of my recommendations.

Studying or working in volunteer tourism? I recommend that you consult the following texts:

Looking for an easy read? Here are some books that you might enjoy over a cup of tea:

Want more like this? Here are some of my other posts that may interest you:

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