There are an increasing number of volunteering options available from mainstream holiday companies, offering their customers the opportunity to “give something back” – a commonly repeated phrase. It’s interesting to see how volunteer tourism is moving from the “alternative” travel sector into the mainstream.
Here’s just a few examples:
ITC Classics, who specialise in luxury holidays, introduced their ITC Giving programme last year. They have six volunteering experiences which can be added on to a holiday in the same destination. The projects are short – 5 to 7 days – and based in South Africa, Morocco, India, Thailand, Peru and Saint Lucia. ITC are partnering with people and places for most of the projects, as well as Andaman Discoveries for their Thailand placement. There is an emphasis on utilising volunteer’s skills and making a difference however the time spent on the project is so short that I would imagine that in reality, these are more like experiential tours where the volunteer is immersed into a local community and able to help out where they can in the time they have.
Kuoni, another upmarket travel company, have developed their ananea brand for their responsible travel offering, a mixture of hotels, tours and volunteering holidays. This was also launched in 2011. The marketing is very glossy and niche and by developing a brand, it seems Kuoni are potentially looking to grow their product in this area. At the moment they are offering conservation research expeditions run by Earthwatch and volunteer programmes in Thailand in partnership with Volunteers Without Borders.
Saga, the over 50s holiday company, have a range of volunteer travel options including projects in schools in Nepal, Sri Lanka, St Lucia and South Africa. Saga match volunteer’s skills to placements and the emphasis is on experienced 50+ professionals transferring skills to local staff. Their placements are a minimum of 4 weeks in duration to maximise the benefits and sustainability of the projects. They are also very transparent about how the volunteer’s payment is spent and emphasise that volunteers will be making a contribution to the project both financially and by giving their time.
Other holiday companies now offering volunteering to their customers are Virgin Holidays, with their Human Nature Collection, working in partnership with Madventurer; Crystal Cruises who have set up voluntourism excursions for their customers which involve either conservation activities e.g. planting trees or helping disadvantaged children, e.g. visiting an orphanage and helping children with their homework; and Sandals who are promoting a programme through their foundation where hotel guests can spend 2 hours helping local schoolchildren to learn to read. These very short, excursion-type offerings from Sandals and Crystal Cruises are quite a different angle to volunteer tourism and do raise questions over how much benefit local communities can gain from these kind of visits. It is more likely that the benefit goes to the tourist who gains an insight into another culture and can continue their holiday with a good feeling that they have “given something back”.