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TIES Voluntourism Guidelines Project: Project Goals, Partners and Expected Outcomes
About the Project
TIES and Planeterra Foundation are collaborating to develop a set of criteria that will help international voluntourism providers plan and manage their programs in a responsible and sustainable manner. In May-June 2011, TIES, with the support of voluntourism project partner Planeterra, and in collaboration with an International Advisory Committee representing a wide range of industry fields and regions, conducted an industry survey with the aim of gathering data on current issues, challenges, and opportunities in the field of voluntourism.
Voluntourism Guidelines Project FAQs
Q: Why did you initiate the International Voluntourism Guidelines project?
A: The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), with the support of Planeterra, has launched this project because an increasing number of travel companies are adding volunteer opportunities to their tour itineraries worldwide. The growing trend, which is now commonly known as voluntourism, is an area of great interest for many organizations. The hope is to develop a set of criteria that will help international voluntourism providers plan and manage their programs in a responsible and sustainable manner.
Q: Is the Planeterra Foundation a voluntourism provider?
A: No, Planeterra does not organize or sell voluntours. Planeterra is a non‐profit organization that helps empower local people to develop their communities, conserve cultures and create a humane and supportive system for their endeavors. Planeterra, through its global network of travel industry partners, supports a steady cycle of giving and investment in the social and environmental needs of people and places in the destinations they serve worldwide. G Adventures and STA Travel sell voluntours and independent volunteer programs that take place at many of Planeterra’s projects. Therefore Planeterra is a partner in voluntourism, but not a provider.
Q: How will these guidelines be different from other, already existing guidelines?
A: These guidelines will be created out of a process based on research from a wide range of industry and global practitioners. Information gathered from research on existing guidelines, tools, and literature surrounding voluntourism has been incorporated into the development of the survey. Additionally, in order to ensure that this project includes a diverse range of industry knowledge and experiences, TIES and Planeterra are working with an international Advisory Committee representing a variety of industry sectors and regions.
Q: Who was the Voluntourism Guidelines survey sent to?
A: The survey was distributed to members in the TIES database, members of the International Volunteer Programs Association (IVPA), and other professionals or organizations involved with the voluntourism industry for which TIES had contact information. The industry sector categories used for the survey are: Academic; tour operator; local NGO/project; international NGO; local business practitioner; international business practitioner; voluntourism provider (based in outbound country); and local voluntourism partner organization (based in destination country).
Q: Was the survey distributed to local community members who receive voluntourists?
A: No, it was not sent to community members/members of the public who are exposed to voluntourists either directly or indirectly; however, it was sent to local volunteer organizations that receive the volunteers and manage local projects. The Advisory Committee also includes local people involved in voluntourism. Additional research on impacted communities would be an excellent future research endeavor for industry to undertake in order to enhance this work. In the long term, TIES hopes to expand on the current International Voluntourism Guidelines project to work with partners to create tools that will assist sustainable and responsible voluntourism development at the local community level. Any suggestions on potential partnership opportunities, as well as expressions of interest from prospective project sponsors are welcome. Please contact TIES project manager Ms. Ayako Ezaki at aezaki[at]ecotourism.org for comments and inquiries related to future project opportunities.
Q: What is the process for creating the International Voluntourism Guidelines?
A: The first step in the process was to conduct a global industry survey, which incorporated background research and input from the Advisory Committee, to gather data on current issues, challenges, and opportunities in voluntourism. The results of the survey will be used to create a draft of the guidelines to be reviewed by the Advisory Committee and discussed further at the upcoming stakeholder meeting. The stakeholder meeting will be held September 19‐21 during the Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference (ESTC) organized by TIES in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, USA. In October, the results of research to date will be reported at the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) Summit in Chiapas, Mexico. The results will be presented with tailored questions for a working group session with ATTA conference participants. This session will be focused on the adventure travel segment of the industry, with conservation and community being a focus to inform the drafting of the International Voluntourism Guidelines. Local indigenous experts in the San Cristobal area in Chiapas will be invited to participate and ATTA staff will work to recruit other experts who are coming to the conference to attend the session in order to provide guidance on indigenous issues. TIES will produce the final draft of International Voluntourism Guidelines for review by the Advisory Committee and publication in early 2012.
Q: How do you plan to create a set of guidelines that organizations will agree to use?
A: The Advisory Committee is made up of professionals who work in the voluntourism field, yet represent different regions and sectors of the industry. The Committee’s involvement in the process, along with the global survey, will ensure that existing knowledge and experiences are incorporated into the guidelines. In addition, the stakeholder meeting will serve as an important platform to review, criticize and improve the draft guidelines produced as a result of the industry survey. This collaborative effort will ultimately result in a set of international criteria that will help voluntourism providers plan and manage their programs in a responsible and sustainable manner. TIES also plans to participate in various online and off-line industry meetings and networking events, including the Voluntourism Conference in Boulder, Colorado, USA (June 2011), in order to connect with and gather feedback from voluntourism organizations.
Q: What will happen to the International Voluntourism Guidelines once they've been finalized?
A: The Guidelines will be made available online (via TIES website and partners' websites) for free download. TIES plans to utilize the International Voluntourism Guidelines as part of the organization's educational efforts, for instance incorporating the guidelines into new educational modules for operators and other tourism stakeholders. In addition, TIES hopes to create a discussion forum through Ecotourism.org, where industry feedback can be shared on an ongoing basis. The expectation is that the voluntourism field will continue to grow and that it will face new and different challenges and opportunities. Therefore, it is important to create a mechanism for ongoing discussions so that the Guidelines can remain up-to-date and practical in the long-run.