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In this post, I will reflect on the benefits of volunteer tourism, alongside the positive impacts to the volunteer as demonstrated through a number of academic studies.
As somebody who has been a volunteer tourist myself, and studied the concept at length in an academic sense, I am confident that I am appropriately qualified to share with you the top 20 reasons why you should become a volunteer and commit to a volunteer tourism project.
The combination of volunteering and tourism is relatively new and has become increasingly popular in society. Volunteer tourism is generally focused on supporting communities and environments whilst travelling, and I have explained what volunteer tourism is at length in my recent post – Definition of volunteer tourism. I recommend that you take a look at this post to see what volunteer tourism is and where it fits in the broad tourism industry.
Today we are witnessing growing changes in the travel and tourism industry, particularly in regards to tourist motivations. This is no different in the volunteer tourism industry; where there are a wide range of volunteer tourism motivations.
In the past, the reasons for volunteering were predominantly altruism-based, meaning that people did it because they wanted to help others. Now, however, we are now witnessing strong notions of egotism amongst many volunteer tourists, where notions such as CV enhancement and traveling the world are dominant motivating factors. You can read more about this in my post- ‘Volunteer tourism: The reasons why people volunteer‘.
These changes in motivations has changed the nature of the volunteer tourism industry. Consequently, this has effected the advantages and disadvantages of volunteer tourism to the both the tourist and the host. This is a concept that I discuss further in my posts on the impacts of volunteer tourism.
As I explain in my recent post on the reasons why people volunteer, volunteer tourism is not just about ‘doing good’ for others, but also about ‘doing good’ for the self; bringing a rise in benefits for both tourists and host communities.
The most significant body of literature on the benefits of volunteer tourism appears to focus largely on the tourist and not on the host, despite the main aim of volunteer tourism being to improve the well-being and livelihoods of the host society or environment. This, I feel, is somewhat ironic.
Below I will explain the top 20 documented benefits of volunteer tourism to the tourist, as highlighted through a range of academic studies .
#1 Develop skills to aid career development
Volunteer tourism is an important means for career development. The ability to immerse yourself in a different culture and community whilst supporting them provides a fertile ground for acquiring relevant skills, experience and qualifications.
This is demonstrated with reference to a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Teacher in Solderman and Snead’s (2008) study. Thee teacher claims that she would be unable to teach at home in the UK without formal teaching qualifications and experience, but that volunteer tourism provided her with this opportunity.
Volunteering also gives you the opportunity to practice skills valued in the workplace, such as task management, teamwork, communication, problem solving and time management.
In fact, Time Bank UK surveyed business leaders, finding that of those interviewed, 73% said they would employ someone who has volunteered over those who haven’t.
#2 Cheap travel opportunities
Whilst there isn’t a wealth of data on volunteer tourism projects, TRAM (Tourism Research and Marketing) found in 2008 that volunteers typically pay on average £2,000 for the privilege of volunteering.
It is also worth noting that volunteer tourism projects often take place in developing economies; meaning living costs are low compared to developed economies.
This cost covers, housing, meals, projects, materials, administration and on-site staff support. So, you would not expect to pay any additional costs during your stay unless you are wanting to do a few tourist activities outside of volunteering, thus making the cost of the overall travel experience cheaper than it may otherwise be.
Having the opportunity to travel without large expenses is appealing to many prospective volunteer tourists and is one of the dominant benefits of volunteer tourism.
#3 To have a ‘grass roots’/cultural experience
Unlike other forms of tourism, volunteer tourism provides a unique travel experience and demonstrates the most cohesive practice of cultural immersion.
During volunteer tourism projects, you are working alongside and within host communities. This provides you with an authentic and cultural experience that is not commodified for the purpose of tourism.
Volunteer tourism, therefore, is beneficial to the tourist because it provides them with a cultural, ‘grass roots’ experience that they may otherwise not experience during their travels.
You might also be interested in my post- ‘What is tourism? A definition of tourism‘
This is demonstrated through a number of academic studies examining the benefits of volunteer tourism including those undertaken by Coren and Gray (2012); Lo and Lee
(2011); Grabowski (2013); McIntosh and Zahra (2008); Palacios (2010) and Wickens (2011).
#4 Exhibit philanthropic behaviour
Volunteer tourism is based on the notion of giving and supporting others. As a result, one of the benefits of volunteer tourism is that the ability to exhibit philanthropic behaviour.
Philanthropic activities and behaviours is something that is often sought after by employers. Therefore it looks great on your CV and can help to make you more employable; making this is another benefit of volunteer tourism!
Whilst this is an area that warrants further attention in the academic community, this benefit of volunteer tourism has been documented by Coren and Gray (2012) and Lo and Lee (2011) in their research. For further details on how tourism can be philanthropic, I recommend you visit the travel philanthropy website.
#5 Enhanced relationships/cross-cultural relationships
Volunteer tourism allows tourists to see and experience different cultures on a more personal level than other forms of tourism and to build relationships with members of the host community.
It is widely documented that volunteer tourism provides opportunities to broaden cultural understandings. This can help broaden a person’s mind and help them to gain a better understanding of the way that different people and communities work.
Being empathetic and understanding different cultures can help make a person more employable, particularly given that the live in an ever-increasing globalised world.
In modern society, cultures are frequently being attacked for their differences in what can often be described as a heated political climate. But volunteer tourism provides opportunities to open our minds and enhancing relationships between cultures.
Relationship building is not only limited to the host community, but also to other volunteer tourists working alongside you and your project. You have the opportunity to meet a variety of volunteer tourists from a range of backgrounds.
#6 Becoming ambassadors of home country
As a volunteer tourist you can raise awareness of the work you do as a volunteer and encourage others to become a volunteer too. You can use your skills and experiences to encourage greater public awareness of the serious issues facing communities and environments.
Working as a volunteer tourist also provides the opportunity to become an ambassador of your home country. Whilst volunteering overseas can mean that a volunteer tourist learns a lot about the country within which they are based, they can also learn a lot about the countries that their volunteer tourist peers are based in through the friendships that they build.
#7 Realisation of the importance of material possessions
The volunteer tourism experience allows you to witness in real life, the minimal belongings that many host communities have. You realise the importance of food and shelter, as well as the importance of companionship with other people.
This often leads to reflections of your own personal circumstances and many volunteer tourists will realise that material possessions and ‘first world’ problems are in actual fact not as important as they once thought, as evidenced in Brown’s (2005) research. In fact, many volunteer tourists have reported changes in their world views and priorities in this regard upon completion of their volunteer tourism placement.
You might also be interested in my post- ‘A definition of volunteer tourism: What is it and where does it fit in the broad tourism industry?‘
Education is one of the most notable benefits of volunteer tourism and is widely documented throughout the academic literature.
Volunteering allows you to learn local socioeconomic and political issues, new languages and even discover more about oneself.
Volunteer tourism can encompass formal education, such as a TEFL qualification or informal learning, such as learning from the travel experience itself.
#9 Personal growth and development
For many, volunteer tourism projects will be a step or two outside of their comfort zone. The challenges that arise with the projects will broaden a person’s skill set and allow them to discover a lot about themselves and the skills, strengths and capabilities they have.
You’ll likely come across many challenges when undertaking a volunteer tourism project ranging from public speaking to living in conditions that you are not used to. Despite the difficulties that this may encompass, it often brings about personal growth and development, which is seen as one of the major benefits of volunteer tourism.
Such experiences often encourage the development of confidence and particular feelings of self-determination and self-worth. This is a benefit of volunteer tourism that is widely evidenced in academic research, including the work of: Broad (2003); Brown (2005); Bailey and Russell (2010); Chen and Chen (2011); Lepp (2008); Lo and Lee (2011); Palacios, (2010) and Wickens (2011).
#10 Greater awareness of ‘self’
A number of academics have recognised that the most beneficial aspect of the volunteer tourism experience is the greater awareness of ‘self’.
Volunteer tourism is a unique form of tourism that allows tourists to push their physical and emotional limits and go beyond the superficial interactions that travel is often restricted too.
As a volunteer tourist you will likely discover a lot about yourself that you may not have known. This can contribute to the personal growth and development discussed above.
#11 Enhanced citizenship
Volunteer tourism connects groups of people together who necessary wouldn’t have been grouped together without the role of volunteering. The interaction between the volunteer and the tourist attempts to build social bridges and a role like this develops important citizen qualities in volunteers.
In an article, “Giving and volunteering as distinct forms of civic engagement”, Keely S. Jones expresses how voluntary projects induce people to frequently participate in public concerns and exposes them to a wider pool of shared problems, thus encouraging enhanced citizenship.
During voluntary work you begin to understand the needs of communities and the importance of community involvement, both qualities that mirror enhanced citizenship.
#12 Opportunity to do/see something fun and exotic
Another well documented benefit of volunteer tourism is to ‘have fun’.
Volunteer tourism frequently provides you with the opportunity to do or see something fun and exotic. Volunteering and travelling allows you to do something different out of your day-to-day routine and get involved in projects that excite you or spend time travelling and sightseeing.
You might also be interested in my post- ‘Volunteer tourism: The reasons why people volunteer‘
When I worked as a volunteer tourist in Buenos Aires, for example, I explored the sights and sounds of the city alongside my volunteer work. I experienced the Argentinian nightlife, went to a football match and took a short break to Iguazu Falls. Whilst the opportunities for fun will vary substantially between volunteer tourism placements and locations, there will usually be something for the volunteer tourist to enjoy.
#13 Enhanced level of self-criticism
Self-criticism is how an individual evaluates themselves and their actions.
As documented in Sin’s (2009) research, during and after volunteering projects you may begin to consciously aspire to be the best you can be and always make sure your actions are rightly intended. You begin to analyse and measure your actions and the impacts of your actions.
For further information on the benefits of being more self-critical, I’d suggest reading Conquer your critical inner voice by Robert Firestone.
#14 Self-satisfaction and desire to change
Following on from point number 13, volunteering your time and skills to help those in need brings you all sorts of rewards. This can bring with it feelings of self-satisfaction.
Many people will also demonstrate a desire to change as a person. They may be more willing to give and support others than they were before they completed their volunteering project and become more philanthropic in nature. This is another one of the benefits of volunteer tourism.
#15 Enhanced spiritualism
Volunteering feeds your inner spirit. Volunteering promotes positive personality changes that enhances your positive outlook of life. When you begin to look at things from a more positive perspective you naturally are drawn towards spiritualism.
As demonstrated in Zahra’s (2006) work, volunteering also enhances your inner creativity, motivation and vision that continues to reflect in your personal and professional life.
For more on how activities, such as volunteer tourism, can lead to enhanced spiritualism, I recommend reading Waking up: Searching for spiritualism without religion by Sam Harris.
#16 Positive personality changes
To witness in first sight the struggles in which others live, heightens your awareness to be more grateful and appreciative of the life you live. You begin to develop a conscious mind in which you practice a positive outlook on life.
Volunteering allows you to connect with others and has proven to support loneliness and depression.
By doing something that makes you feel great, makes you feel better about yourself and it is more likely you are to have a positive outlook on life.
As well as volunteering creating positive personality changes, volunteering also helps tackle the effects of stress and anxiety.
Volunteer tourism can be fun and meaningful, and projects become relaxing and allows you to escape from your daily routine. According to a 2013 study from BMC health, the social interaction involved whilst helping and working with others through an act of kindness has proven to relieve stress. This is another one of the prominent benefits of volunteer tourism.
#18 To have a greater understanding of the host community
Volunteer tourism provides you with a greater understanding of the host country.
Unlike other forms of tourism, volunteer tourism allows you to fully immerse yourself in the culture and community of the host community.
The personal interaction between the volunteer tourist and the host community provides you with a completely different insight of the host country than you normally would.
You might also be interested in my post- ‘Different levels of tourism policy and planning‘
#19 Increase desire to ‘give’
Volunteering is a charitable act of giving and allows you to understand the importance of helping others.
When you see how your efforts can have a positive impact to the host community and to your state of mind, your desire to ‘give’ increases.
In fact6, many people become more ‘giving’ in their nature after completing a volunteer tourism placement.
#20 Opportunity to achieve training and/or qualifications
For some, volunteering is a simple means to achieve training and/or qualifications.
You can now gain a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) whilst volunteering. NVQ’s are practical work-based qualifications that allow you to be assessed on your experience. You can gain a qualification in; Language teaching, First aid, Social care, Advice and guidance, Management of volunteers and Youth work.
You can now gain a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) whilst volunteering with Claire House.
Another popular qualification to gain whilst partaking in a volunteer tourism project is a TEFL qualification. These come in a range of sizes and approaches and can be classroom-based or online. Lets TEFL provides more information on these qualifications, along with fees, durations etc.
Conclusion: The benefits of volunteer tourism
There are countless reasons to volunteer that provide benefits to the tourist, many in which reflect a positive outlook on life and a greater understanding and value of social relationships. It is clear volunteer tourism has a positive impact on your well-being and day-to-day activities in many cases and this is well documented throughout the academic literature.
For more information on volunteer tourism, particularly if you are studying it as part of an academic course, I recommend the following texts:
I’d be interested to hear your experiences of volunteer tourism and the benefits of volunteer tourism that you encountered during your project and coming away from the project, please comment below!