The Business Of Voluntourism by Melanie Boehi

Writer’s brief

The business of volunteering tourism

For many countries and especially formerly colonised countries tourism is a major source of income. For over a century, images and imaginings of wild nature, wild animals and wild people have drawn adventure-hungry European travellers to the African continent. In recent years, more attention has been paid to sustainable forms of tourism. Eco-tourism and community-tourism are fast developing industries. Surfing the same wave but not always holding up integrity as high is the field of volunteer tourism.

Volunteer tourism offers ‘more than tourism’ – and often participants are willing to pay more for the ‘more’. The ‘more’ consists of philanthropic self-satisfaction for guilty whites and it also adds value to the traveller’s personal curriculum vitae. While much money is paid by participants of volunteering tourism programmes, only a percentage of this money arrives at the project. Much stays with brokers, often in Europe or North America. On weekends, youth hostels in Ghana are packed with Europeans and Americans in their early twenties who meet to share experiences made in their volunteering projects. Some are surprised that the orphanage they expected to volunteer at turned out to be a farm and the children they expected to be playing with are kept like slaves.

How big is the industry of volunteering tourism in Africa? How much value does volunteering tourism add to the countries of destination and how much value is added to the economy of the countries of the volunteers’ origins?

Reading list

  • Croese, L 2008, Voluntourism: a Study on the Dutch Demand and Supply Side of Volunteer Holidays, NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences.
  • Benson, A M 2011, Volunteer tourism: theoretical frameworks and practical applications, Taylor & Francis.
  • McMillon, B, Cutchins, D, Geissinger, A & Asner, E 2009, Volunteer Vacations: Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others, Chicago Review Press.
  • Donaldson, A 2010, Encountering God in the Margins: Reflections of a Justice Volunteer, Veritas.

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