Voluntourism – tourism’s response to the Big Society?

photo of people building a dry stone wall

Voluntourism (I dislike the word almost as much as staycation) is about travelling abroad and taking part in a volunteer project. I was reading recently that ‘bite-sized’ volunteer holidays are growing in popularity.

Voluntourism was once the preserve of students in their gap year but is increasingly attracting people of all ages. What these people all share is a desire to do something for the good of other people or the environment while experiencing new places and cultures. Some people use it as an opportunity to learn a new skill; others to offer their skills to those in need, for example offering medical aid in a disaster zone. Voluntourism offers a new way to experience a destination; potentially on a deeper, more meaningful level. If the overall experience is positive, visitors may continue to support the area or project once back home; developing an ongoing relationship with the destination. A variety of non-profit organisations and agencies offer voluntourism opportunities, for example Earthwatch, Habitat for Humanity and Global Citizens Network.

Overseas voluntourism may seem more exciting or worthwhile because it is often about helping disaster areas or third world countries but the UK offers some fascinating opportunities too. Earthwatch for example, allows you to shortlist a selection of projects in the UK that meet your skills and interests in just six clicks. You can dip your toe in the voluntourism water with just a weekend project or try out something more ambitious. Maybe voluntourism is an opportunity for tourism to contribute to the Big Society. After all why shouldn’t localism extend to those destinations you know and love in the UK? Put back a little bit of your time and love into the places you visit as well as the one you live in.