Click the link for an article I wrote for Travelmole about the movement towards best practice guidelines, standards and regulation for the volunteer tourism sector
It will be interesting to see how this progresses in 2012 and which of the schemes is successful.
Tourism Concern’s proposed Gap Year and International Volunteering Standard generated some intense debate last year when it was first announced. The voluntourismgal blog gives a good overview of some of the opinions out there.
I think the US perspective is quite different from here in the UK due to the potential for litigation. British Standards don’t usually carry any legal status so here in the UK the idea of a standard is seen in a different light. However there are plenty of UK critics for these kind of standards too. My take on this issue is that there needs to be some movement towards ensuring the industry reputation improves and volunteers can be confident they are giving their time and money to a worthwhile project. This doesn’t necessarily need to be rigid standards or completion of a full audit for every organisation as I don’t believe this is achieveable or realistic. I actually really like the Fair Trade Volunteering scheme which has flexibility for different types of volunteering project and seems more inclusive as there is no fee to sign up.
One of the most powerful ways of improving this sector could be volunteer-led. Volunteers should have a voice, give feedback and post reviews online to ensure that the “bad” projects are being highlighted and that good projects are promoted. However, anyone who has ever tried using Trip Advisor to check out a hotel or a review site to see if a restaurant is any good will know that there are usually reviews ranging from “I loved it, best ever” to “terrible, never going back” for the same place. Highly subjective, reviews can be quite hard to use as a decision making tool. However speaking to previous volunteers can help to find out first-hand about what a project is like and give you some better information to decide for yourself.