Tourism is one of the largest industries in the world. For a longer period of time, people have considered tourism as an intense economic activity. This is due to the fact that tourist activities help to enhance economic activities in tourist destinations across the globe.
In the recent times, however, the orientation of tourism and tourist activities has become more diverse. This diversity comes from the introduction of volunteer tourism. Under normal circumstances, tourism has been understood as the movement of people from one region to another in order to explore the destination region.
This is quite a different case when picturing what volunteer tourism is all about (Ooi & Laing 2010). Perhaps, it is vital to understand what volunteer tourism is in order to get a clearer picture of the difference between this kind of tourism and its relationship with the normal tourism.
Wearing (2001) argued that volunteer tourism is an emerging idea in the tourism industry where people travel to different destinations in the world where their services are in demand. This argument is backed by an observation from Human Rights Support (2012) that the services of volunteer tourists help to support the livelihoods of the local populations (Sin 2009).
Benson (2011) observed that the demand for charitable work keeps rising, thus the need for more charitable projects in tourist destinations is one of the reasons why volunteer tourism is on the rise. In this paper, it is argued that volunteer tourism is an activity that highly promotes intercultural exchanges in tourist destinations, thus rationalizing poverty in those destinations.
Thus, to a given extent, this kind of tourism comes out as a promotional factor for neo-colonial activities. Volunteer tourism is an activity that has been happening for a long period. However, researchers in the tourism industry did not pay much attention to this area of tourism, till recent times when research has been diverted to volunteer tourism (Benson 2011).
This paper explores the developments in volunteer tourism, and how it enhances intercultural exchange among the people in tourist destinations. Of greater focus in the paper is the exploration of how intercultural exchange leads to the rationalization of poverty by the volunteer tourists.
Understanding volunteer tourism
According to Broad (2003), the concept of volunteer tourism can only be understood better when it is comprehended from the perspective of the destination of the tourism; the local communities. Through this, one can easily understand the factors that motivate tourists who take part in volunteer tourism and the benefits that are drawn from local tourism by the local communities.
One of the best means of interacting with local communities in any given area is by engaging in an activity with them (McGehee & Santos 2005). This is what local tourists do as they discharge their support to the local communities in areas where they visit. This argument is backed by Human Rights Support (2012), which highlights a number of activities and initiatives that form volunteer tourism.
According to Human Rights Support (2012), volunteer tourism is comprised of a series of activities that are carried out by tourists in different parts of the world. The tourists who carry out these activities often commit themselves to take part in the activities.
This is their main mission, which motivates them to leave their countries and move into other places where they engage in activities that aim at uplifting the living conditions of the local communities. This perhaps brings out the aspect of ‘volunteering’ in tourism, which in turn helps to define volunteer tourism.
The aspect of volunteering or giving service to the community by tourists has also been expounded by Brown (2005), who argued that the main driving force for volunteer tourists is to ensure that tourists enrich the lives of local communities through their services.
Therefore, by enriching the local communities through their services, the local tourists are depicted as heroes by the communities that benefit from the services provided by the tourists (Tomazos & Butler 2010). Volunteer tourists may engage in diverse fields or industries in the destinations.
This can be brought out by naming the categories of examples of volunteer tourists in the world. Most of the current examples of volunteer tourists have been given by Human Rights Support (2012). They include nurses and doctors moving to a place that has scarce medical services.
The nurses and doctors take time away from their normal working environment and home to offer their services to the people who need the services the most. Therefore, people who get these services appreciate them a lot as they could have not received such services without the team of volunteers (Tomazos & Butler 2010).
Other types of volunteer tourists include people who leave their countries to move into other regions, probably disaster stricken regions, with the aim of helping to rebuild homes for the affected people. Examples of this kind of volunteers have been seen in areas that have been worst hit by disasters like Haiti, where the hurricane caused massive havoc.
In this kind of tourism, people often donate their skills, as well as their physical strengths to help in rebuilding homes for the affected groups. In this category of volunteer tourism, people often gather their contributions under the auspices of a single group or organization, which enhances their coordination while in the tourist destination.
A notable example of a group that has been coordinating such an activity in various sites is the Habitat for Humanity (Stoddart & Rogerson 2004). Harris, Griffin and Williams (2003) ascertained that volunteer tourists also focus on sustainable development. Examples of sustainable activities that are done by volunteer tourists include the preservation and conservation of natural habitats in the world.
They teach local communities on how to enhance the growth and preservation of natural habitats around them (Human Rights Support 2012). In all these activities, several aspects of development can be noted, for example economic, social, physical, and cultural development of the communities that receive volunteer tourists.
Coghlan (2006) adds to this list by observing that volunteer tourism, to a great extent, promotes ecological development. Therefore, it could as well be said that volunteer tourism promotes activities that are geared towards helping the local communities.
Of greater relevance to this essay is the cultural development as a long-term impact of volunteer tourism on the local tourist destinations. What can be said at this point is that volunteer tourism encourages interaction between the local communities and the tourists, which furthers the intercultural exchange between the local people and the tourists.
The level of interaction between local populations and the volunteer tourists is more intense as compared to the kind of interaction that is witnessed under the normal form of tourism. In order to have a broader understanding of how volunteer tourism promotes intercultural exchange, it is vital to explore diverse arguments by the proponents of such an argument.
Volunteer tourism and intercultural exchange
As noted in the introductory part of this paper, volunteer tourism is a practice that has been held for a longer period (Coghlan 2006). However, a substantial amount of research in this field of tourism began featuring in recent researches. Therefore, the relationship between volunteer tourism, intercultural exchange and the question of poverty elimination through volunteer tourism can be found in recent literature on volunteer tourism.
Having observed this, it is critical to begin by understanding the resounding relationship between volunteer tourism and intercultural exchange. Numerous ethical issues surround the relationship between volunteer tourism and intercultural exchange in different tourist zones in the world (Hall & Brown 2006).
From the outset of the paper, it can be said that there is a stronger relationship between volunteer tourism and intercultural development (Raymond & Hall 2008). Therefore, the most critical question that ought to be answered entails which kind of intercultural development and exchanges takes place in the destinations that are visited by volunteer tourists (Barkham 2006).
Several studies that have been conducted across different parts of the world show that voluntourism promotes the relationships between the tourists and the local communities. One main pointer in the outcomes of such researches is that most of the voluntary tourism takes place in the developing world (McIntosh & Zahra 2007). This implies that most recipient destinations for voluntary tourism lie in the developing world (Palacios 2010).
Most programs of volunteer tourism have been found to possess a positive influence on intercultural competence in the tourist destinations (Salazar 2004). There are also other influences of volunteer tourism, which includes the building of perceptions and emotional inclinations, particularly by the volunteer tourists (Butcher 2003).
These psychological developments emanate from the experiences that are gained by the tourists during the period of their stay in the tourist destinations (Sherraden, Lough & Moore 2008; Rosenberger 2000). According to Geckogo (2009), volunteer tourism is an activity in international travel, which is geared towards promoting trust and understanding among people from diverse cultures.
The ultimate goal of this kind of tourism is to enhance peace and prosperity among the diverse communities in the world. This is a definitional perspective of volunteer tourism, yet it features culture development. Intercultural understandings come from the sustained relationships between the volunteer tourists and the local communities where these tourists volunteer their services.
This is backed by the research that was conducted by Geckogo (2009), which showed that volunteer tourists take quite an extended period of time to accomplish their activities. In order to be efficient in discharging their services to the communities, volunteer tourists are forced to learn how to communicate with the local communities, even for a shorter period of time.
In doing so, they learn diverse aspects of culture from the local communities. The local communities also learn aspects of culture from the tourists. This cycle depicts the development of intercultural communication (Hottola 2004). Lee and Woosnam (2010) observed that the relationship between volunteer tourists and the local communities is a reflector of cross cultural adaptations.
This observation was made through a comparative study of how voluntourism has developed over time. This aspect of communication enhances mutual learning in tourist destinations. Since the two cultures, the culture of the tourists and the culture of the local population, vary it could be difficult to have a similar level of understanding of the culture of the two groups by each group (Palacios, 2010).
This is further complicated by the rationale that the tasks of the two groups in their engagement vary. This is where the question of rationalization of poverty comes into existence (Barkham 2006).
Intercultural exchanges, rationalization of poverty and neo-colonial inclinations of volunteer tourism
As observed in the essay, there is a developmental relationship between voluntary tourism and intercultural exchanges in the world. However, the question that needs to be asked is whether all the intercultural exchanges have positive influences on the tourists and the local communities, who are often the recipients of the volunteer tourist services (McIntosh & Zahra 2007).
It should be understood that volunteer tourism can take two forms. These are the long-term missions and the short term missions. The long-term missions encourage intense interactions, thereby promoting closer intercultural linkages and exchanges between the tourists and the local populace of the tour regions (Ver Beek 2006; Uriely, Reichel & Ron 2003).
A lot of emphasis in research on volunteer tourism has been placed on the developmental aspects of this type of tourism. Greater emphasis is being placed on the value and contribution of volunteer tourism on sustainable development (Sin 2010; Zahra & McIntosh 2007). Nobody can strongly doubt the contribution that has been made by volunteer tourists in promoting sustainable development initiatives round the world.
Also, there is no doubt that volunteer tourism promotes intercultural exchanges. The question of the neo-colonialism as an impact of the development of intercultural exchanges in tourism is often ignored, yet it comes out strongly in the real sense of volunteer tourism projects in different regions of the world.
As mentioned earlier, volunteer tourists, as well as the local communities develop perceptions out of the cross-cultural interactions. One of the common perceptions revolves around the view of poverty and developmental assistance (Butcher 2003a; Gehee & Andereck 2009).
Volunteer tourism is seen from a humanistic perspective, from which case the developing world is the recipient of the humanistic aid (Raymond & Hall 2008). According to Roberts (2004), there have been massive activities that are conducted by volunteer tourists in diverse destinations around the world.
This is what led Roberts to conduct a study in Ghana, in order to ascertain the level of influence of the confines of neo-colonialism in volunteer tourism. This is one of the numerous studies that are meant to monitor the perceptions of people on the impacts of volunteer tourism in tourist regions.
According to Porter (2003), organizations that facilitate volunteer tourism rarely develop initiatives that could help to strengthen partnerships between the local communities and the volunteer tourists. This could help shape and change the perception of the local communities (Brown & Hall 2008). In most cases, the local communities are perceived as mere recipients of volunteer tourists.
Such trends are common with the young volunteers from the developed countries, who quickly develop attitudes about the local communities. When these young people go back to their home countries, they have tales that mostly associate the people in the tourist destinations to poverty. This is why they end up designating more programs to aid the developing world (Roberts 2004; Noy 2004).
Brown and Hall (2008) observed that the development of partnerships between local communities and the volunteer tourists can help to draw away features of dependency that are still existent in the modern economy. However, the difference can be noted when observing volunteer tourism between the northern to northern nations.
In this tourism, stronger working relationships are developed between the local communities and the volunteers. This is pointed out in Howie (2004) works on how to manage tourist destinations. The volunteers are seen as mere facilitators of the response. Local communities are well informed of their roles and are equipped with skills to enforce development.
Therefore, the only thing that comes out so strongly in the north to south volunteer tourism is that the volunteers get a deeper understanding of the problems that engulf the south. This depicts poverty as a common and widespread phenomenon in the south by the volunteers.
Northern to southern volunteer tourism remains part of volunteer tour. This makes the developing world to become long-term project zones for the volunteer tourists. The structure of volunteer tourism in the developing world makes most tourists to develop the assumption that volunteer tourism is all about helping the poor, which is not the case.
However, both the local community environment and the volunteer tourists have a stake in the development of the perception that volunteer tourism is a reflection of neo-colonialism (Roberts 2004). The rise in the number of incidences of hostilities to the workers of voluntary organizations in most of the voluntary tourist destinations across the world is one of the indicators of the perception of voluntourism (Thomas 2001).
With the growth in the number of volunteer tourists and the growth in the number of projects that are associated with voluntourism, the question that needs to be posed is whether the perception of volunteer tourism, especially in the developing world, will change in the near future. The change will be highly dependent on the rapid changes in the implementation of best practices in volunteerism (Roberts 2004).
In this paper, it is evident that voluntourism is a new field in tourism, which is gaining prominence in the world. Voluntary tourism entails international travel with the sole aim of offering services to the people who need them in different parts of the world. As it is today, there are numerous voluntary projects in the world today that are being implemented by voluntary tourists.
The paper has also sought to establish the relationship between voluntary tourism and intercultural exchange. Through the discussion, it has been established that there is a stronger relationship between voluntary tourism and intercultural development. The relationship is signified by the fact that volunteer tourists prolong their stay in tourist destinations, which help them to develop intercultural ties between them and the local communities.
The paper has also explored the linkages between cross intercultural exchange, which is enhanced by volunteer tourism, and the rationalization of poverty. These have been related to the concept of neocolonialism. Here, the argument was developed showing that most activities that are related to voluntary tourism are channeled from the developed countries to the developing countries.
Also, gaps have been noted in the development of volunteer tourism, which makes people develop perceptions about volunteer tourism. Relating volunteer tourism to neo-colonialism is an extension of the perceptions that are developed as a result of intercultural development.
Barkham, P 2006, ‘Are these the new colonialists?’ The Guardian, August 18, 2006, pp. 12–14.
Benson, AM 2011, Volunteer tourism – Theoretical frameworks and practical applications, Routledge, London.
Broad, S 2003, ‘Living the Thai life – A case study of volunteer tourism at the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, Thailand’, Tourism Recreation Research, vol. 28 no. 3, pp. 57–62.
Brown, F & Hall, D 2008, ‘Tourism and development in the Global South: The issues’, Third World Quarterly, vol. 29 no.5, pp. 839–849.
Brown, S 2005, ‘Travelling with a purpose: Understanding the motives and benefits of volunteer vacationers’, Current Issues in Tourism, vol. 8 no. 6, pp. 479-496.
Butcher, J 2003, The moralisation of tourism, Routledge, London.
Butcher, J 2003a, “A humanistic perspective on the volunteer–recipient relationship: A Mexican study.” In: Dekker, P., Halman, L. (Eds.), Nonprofit and civil society studies. The values of volunteering–cross-cultural perspectives (pp. 111–126), Kluwer Academic, New York.
Coghlan, A 2006, ‘Volunteer tourism as an emerging trend or an expansion of ecotourism? A look at potential clients’ perceptions of volunteer tourism organisations’, International Journal Nonprofit Volunteer Sector Mark, vol. 11, pp. 225–237.
Geckogo 2009, Volunteer Travel Insights 2009. Web.
Gehee, NG & Andereck, K 2009, ‘Volunteer tourism and the “voluntoured”: the case of Tijuana, Mexico’, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, vol. 17 no. 1, pp. 39-51.
Hall, D & Brown, F 2006, Tourism and welfare: Ethics, responsibility and sustainable development, CAB International, Wallingford.
Harris, R, Griffin, T & Williams, P (eds) 2003, Sustainable tourism: A global perspective, Elsevier Science Limited, Ohio.
Hottola, P 2004, Culture confusion: Intercultural adaptation in tourism, Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 31, pp. 447–466.
Howie, F 2004, Managing the tourist destination, Thomson, London.
Human Rights Support 2012, What is volunteer tourism? Web.
Lee, YJ & Woosnam, KM 2010, ‘Voluntourist transformation and the theory of integrative cross-cultural adaptation’, Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 37, no. 4, pp. 1186–1189.
McGehee, NG & Santos, C 2005, ‘Social change, discourse and volunteer tourism’, Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 32, pp. 760–779.
McIntosh, AJ & Zahra, A 2007′, ‘A cultural encounter through volunteer tourism: Towards the ideals of sustainable tourism?’, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, vol. 15, pp. 541–557.
Noy, C 2004 ‘This trip really changed me. Backpackers’ narratives of self-change’, Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 31, pp. 78–102.
Ooi, N & Laing, HJ 2010, ‘Backpacker tourism: sustainable and purposeful? Investigating the overlap between backpacker tourism and volunteer tourism motivations’, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, vol. 18 no. 2, pp. 191-206.
Palacios, C 2010, ‘Volunteer tourism, development and education in a post-colonial world: conceiving global connections beyond aid’, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, vol. 18 no. 7, pp. 861-878.
Porter, G 2003, ‘NGOs and poverty reduction in a globalizing world: perspectives from Ghana’, Progress in Development Studies, vol. 3 no. 2, pp. 131-145.
Raymond, E & Hall, M 2008, ‘The development of cross-cultural (mis)understanding through volunteer tourism’, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, vol. 16 no. 5, pp. 530–543.
Roberts, T 2004, Are Western volunteers reproducing and reconstructing the legacy of colonialism in Ghana? An analysis of the experiences of returned volunteers. Unpublished master’s thesis, UK, University of Manchester.
Rosenberger, C 2000, “Beyond empathy: Developing critical consciousness through service learning.” In C. O’Grady (Ed.), Integrating service learning and multicultural education in colleges and universities (pp. 23–43), Lawrence Erlbaum, Mahwah, NJ.
Salazar, N 2004, “Developmental tourists vs. development tourism: A case study.” In A. Raj (Ed.), Tourist behaviour: Psychological perspective (pp. 85–107), Kanishka, New Delhi.
Sherraden, M, Lough, B & Moore, A 2008, ‘Effects of international volunteering and service: Individual and institutional predictors’, Voluntas, vol. 19, pp. 395–421.
Sin, H L 2009, ‘Volunteer tourism—‘‘involve me and i will learn’’?’, Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 36 no. 3, pp. 480–501.
Sin, H L 2010, ‘Who are we responsible to? Locals’ tales of volunteer tourism’, Geoforum, vol. 41, pp. 983–992.
Stoddart, H & Rogerson, CM 2004, ‘Volunteer tourism: The case of Habitat for Humanity South Africa’, Geo Journal, vol. 60 no. 3, pp. 311–318.
Thomas, G 2001, Human Traffic: Skills, employers and International Volunteers, Demos, London.
Tomazos, K & Butler, R 2010, ‘The volunteer tourist as ‘hero’, Current Issues in Tourism, vol. 13 no. 4, pp. 363-380.
Uriely, N, Reichel, A & Ron, A 2003, ‘Volunteering in tourism: Additional thinking’, Tourism Recreation Research, vol. 28 no. 3, pp. 57–62.
Ver Beek, K 2006, ‘The impact of short-term missions: A case study of house construction in Honduras after Hurricane Mitch’, Missiology: An International Review, vol. 34 no. 4, pp. 477–496.
Wearing, S 2001, Volunteer tourism: Experiences that make a difference, CABI, Wallingford, UK.
Zahra, A & McIntosh, AJ 2007, ‘Volunteer tourism: Evidence of cathartic tourist experiences’, Tourism Recreation Research, vol. 32, pp. 115–119.