Voluntourism – Conference-goers Lending a Hand
Monday, 8th September 2008 at 4:26 pm
In the US, many conference-goers are volunteering for public service rather than demanding prompt four-star service, according to new University of Florida study.
Instead of taking in the sights or lounging at the pool on those afternoons off from meetings and seminars, conference-goers increasingly see the trips as opportunities to help out at a children’s hospital, paint rooms in a homeless shelter or even clean up after a hurricane, according to Tara Schickedanz, who did the research for her master’s thesis in tourism, recreation and sports management.
Schickedanz says ‘voluntourism’, the practice of volunteering while travelling is a cheap, cool concept that has something for everyone – baby boomers who want to make a difference, corporations striving to be more socially responsible and convention planners struggling with budget constraints as travel prices continue to climb.
She says the roots of voluntourism date back at least to the 1960s with the inception of the Volunteer Service Organisation and proliferation of church mission work, more extreme forms where attendees actually lived in the host community.
Schickedanz says in its newest version, voluntourism is being incorporated into the multimillion dollar convention/conference industry. Schickedanz’s study is believed to be the first of its kind to look at meeting professionals’ intent to include these activities in their meetings and conventions.
She says conference organisers have found it more difficult to arrange conventions and out-of-town gatherings with the rising costs of hotel rooms, airline tickets and gas, at a time when attendees expect a greater array of activities to choose from in their spare time.
Other research finds that about three-quarters of associations report holding major conventions at least once a year, with half the visitors to these out-of-town events staying for three or more days at a time.
The research found attendees expect various activities to be available in their free time, such as playing golf or travelling to nearby spas or theme parks, but these tend to be expensive.
Schickedanz says this leaves organisers with a major dilemma: how to create budget-friendly, yet memorable educational and fun experiences for tourists who attend these events.
She says Voluntourism is capturing their attention as a solution.
Of the 100 meeting professionals or conference organisers responding to her online survey, 43 percent said they would include voluntourism activities in future convention plans.
Nearly 45 percent said they had participated in voluntourism activities while attending a convention.
Baby boomers are acquiring more experience with voluntourism and are much of the impetus behind its upswing, as a result of their sheer size in population and extensive travel experience according to Lori Pennington-Gray, a professor in UF’s department of Tourism, Recreation and Sport Management who supervised Schickedanz’s research.
Pennington-Gray says she believes Generation Xers also would be receptive to voluntourism because they have a reputation for interest in adventure and extreme tourism.
Also boding well for the future of voluntourism is corporations’ growing concern for social responsibility according to Schickedanz.
She says with companies wanting to create positive publicity, voluntourism is an excellent public relations prospect, while associations, many of which are Not for Profit are well-suited to goodwill activities with their strong community ties.
At its annual meeting in Seattle in January, members of the Professional Convention Management Association painted rooms in a homeless shelter and volunteered at a food bank.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has chosen to build a playground in every community that it has hosted its annual meeting since 2000.
Is this happening is Australia? Are any Not for Profits being asked to provide voluntourism opportunities for conference-goers. Let us know via the comment button below.
If you took part in the Volunteering Australia National Conference last week why not write a report about a session you attended and what insights it brought to you and your organisation. We’ll publish a selection in the next edition.