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Posts Tagged ‘Tourism’

So you want to be a voluntourist?

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Lily Morrissey

volun-class1

Photo by L Shave @ flickr

In our times of cheap air travel, ergonomically designed backpacks, and heightened social consciousness, increasing numbers of young people from western countries are mixing their travels with volunteer work.

Voluntourism has exploded over the last few decades, with the voluntourist market now peaking at US$2.6bn per year. Like shopping for a new shampoo, would-be volunteers can peruse thousands of online Volunteer Sending Organisations (VSOs) for programs all over the developing world. From rescuing miniature monkeys in the Amazon to teaching orphans English in Somalia, voluntourist programs have been lavished with praise from outlets as diverse as CNN and National Geographic Traveller.

Why the love affair?

The general consensus to date has been that volunteer tourism is good for everyone because it:

  • Fosters selflessness and cultural awareness
  • Brings people from different parts of the global village together
  • Brings revenue to the developing community
  • Utilizes volunteer labor for underfunded projects
  • and Promotes ecological sustainability.

One participant in the US based Earthwatch Programme which toured conservation projects of central America sums it up in her voluntourist diary:

‘Volunteers obviously provide free manpower to the scientists, but more importantly, upon our return home, we can raise awareness of the issues we witnessed with our own eyes’.

volun-teach

Photo by bertrudestein @ flickr

Sounds great! So what’s the problem?

You are a child living in an orphanage in Thailand that is dependent on the funds and labour of voluntourists. They come to teach you English for several weeks each, comically and monotonously repeating the same introductory lessons over and over. You have a perfect grasp of ‘Hi, how are you’, and ‘My name is’, but you never have the same teacher long enough to get any further. You don’t understand these people, and you have learned not to get too attached. Why do they all keep trying to teach you the same thing? And where are they going in such a hurry? Unfortunately, I didn’t make this story up; according to Pierre De Hanscutter, president of SJVietnam (a youth non-profit VSO) it’s being written into chapter one of thousands of lives right now. His is just one of a number of critical voices which are raising themselves above the top of the warm and fuzzy clamour. These voices say that voluntourism can result in:

  • Programs which ignore locals’ real wants and needs
  • Work being left unfinished or done badly due to voluntourists lack of skills
  • Voluntourists taking jobs from locals and creating dependance on foreign donors
  • Feelings of differences being reinforced rather than broken down because of the obvious gap in wealth and power between volunteers and people they are ‘helping’.
  • Voluntourists coming away from the experience feeling as though they have ‘done their bit’ and don’t need to do any more, either in their own country or elsewhere.
  • The presence of volunteers changing the local culture and economy so that communities lose their culture and traditions.
  • Volunteers feeding corrupt practises by handing cash over to dodgy organisations.

Development volunteer and journalist J.B MacKinnon worries that voluntourism is becoming a ‘consumer experience’ catering to the needs of the paying volunteer. After a quick glance at a couple of VSO websites I could see his point. Rather than talk about the needs of communities and matching skills to positions, they promise an easy ‘adventure experience’ so you can be ‘doing something different’ and pursuing ‘personal development’. The alarm bells started ringing: exactly who is this industry working for?

volun-money1For a few enterprising people, it’s working very, very well. Many voluntourism programs come with a hefty price tag attached, and few programs have transparent systems of accountability. Take Sarah’s account of her experience in Ghana.

She and 17 others each contributed AU$1500 to build toilets over six weeks, pooling a budget of $27,000 in a community where the average villager earns $5 per month. ‘So imagine how I felt’, she writes, ‘when I discovered that our accommodation was not paid for, the utilities were not paid for, the builder’s time was unpaid, and the only thing our budget seemed to be used for was to purchase a couple of effluent pipes…So, what happened to the $27,000? You tell me… If you contacted a Chief or Assembly Man in a local community in a country like Ghana…you could use your $1500 to help those who really needed it’.

(more…)

We’re all going on a summer holiday…

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Meredith Paterson

departures-boardScorching sand, ice-cream, cold waves, sizzling bbqs; these are the elements of the kiwi summer holiday. After a hard working year, we can’t wait to relax at the beach, holiday bach or our favourite camping spot. Some of us load up the caravan, strap the kayaks to the roof and head to the other side of the country. Others catch a cheap flight down to the South Island. Wherever we go, family, friends and relaxation are usually on the agenda.

We just LOVE our summer holidays! As a relatively isolated island nation overseas travel has also become important to many kiwis. In particular, the ‘Overseas experience’ (OE) has become a rite of passage for younger generations.  It is a way for us to experience the big wide world, meet new people and learn about other cultures.

But overseas travel isn’t just for young adventurers. Around the world, more and more people go on an overseas holiday every year. It is estimated that in 2010, tourists will take 1 billion trips abroad. However, not everyone gets to go on holiday and only a tiny percentage of the world’s population travels overseas. Most of these people come from rich, developed countries (the minority world).

Going on holiday puts us in a privileged minority, but we don’t even think much about it. After all, we deserve a break. We rarely consider the impact we have on people and places by being there.  But photographs and footprints are not the only remainders of our holidays. Our travels do have affects beyond ourselves.

Tourism and climate change

Climate change may well be the biggest threat the world will see. The impact of tourism and travel on this issue is coming to light. Air travel is recognised as the most polluting form of transport and accounts for 3-5% of carbon dioxide emissions released internationally per year. Sustainable Travel International calculates that even a relatively short flight, Auckland to Sydney, will release 2.06 tonnes of carbon dioxide for two people. Several strategies, including taxing airlines and getting airlines to buy ‘carbon credits’, have been suggested to reduce emissions.

wind-farmMany airlines are countering their pollution by offering carbon off-setting. Carbon off-sets seek to cancel out the carbon emissions from flights by donating money to environmentally focused organisations, who support renewable energy and reforestation projects. Air New Zealand offers customers the option to off-set their carbon emissions by purchasing Trust Power wind farm credits.

Critics argue that carbon off-setting is only prolonging climate change. “The only way to reduce emissions is not to create them,” argues Pamela Nowicka, author of The No-Nonsense Guide to Tourism. “We must use and develop non-harmful forms of transport”. Eco-tourism has become a popular guilt free alternative to mainstream travel. The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” In New Zealand guided walks around the Catlins and diving in the Poor Knights Islands are a couple of activities offered in the name of eco-tourism. Evidently, making your holiday environmentally friendly does not mean taking the fun out of it.

Is holidaying a human right?

st-clair-beach-1We take holidays for relaxation, pleasure, family time and new experiences. Some travel to ‘rediscover’ themselves or as religious pilgrimages. In minority world countries, like New Zealand, holidays are considered necessary for ‘the good life.’ But not everyone has the means to go on holiday.

The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states in article 24 that “everyone has the right to rest and leisure… and periodic holidays with pay.” Article 13 also states that “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country.” Unfortunately, these human rights along with others, are really only available to the minority of those who can afford it.

In developing countries (the majority world not only do most people miss out on the benefits of a holiday, but they often pay the price of other people’s holiday. Tourist developments can destroy natural environments, create waste and exhaust natural resources.  There have been many cases where the tourism industry undermines human rights. Prime beach front land has been snatched from locals who are forced to find new homes, locals working in hotels or resorts are commonly underpaid and forced labour has been used to make tourist areas presentable.

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) believe that travel and tourism “can help raise living standards and alleviate poverty in undeveloped areas.” This is a mighty claim. We can’t assume money paid by tourists stays in the country and benefits the locals. Pamela Nowicka claims that “from 50 to 95 percent of money spent by a tourist will leave the country it was spent in.” This is known as ‘leakage.’ Nowicka cites Thailand as an example saying it is “estimated that 70 percent of all money spent by tourists ended up leaving Thailand via foreign-owned tour operators, airlines, hotels, imported drinks and food and so on.”

TAKE ACTION

But the WTTC are right. Travel and tourism can help fight against poverty. However, it is up to us to find out how our money can be used to best impact the local community and ensure our environmental damage is minimized.

Become an ethical tourist:

  • Fpoor_knights_island_1ind locally owned and run lodges, restaurants and activities whose profits stay in the   community.
  • Use the least damaging form of transport. It’s difficult to avoid flying if we want to go overseas. We can’t take a train under the Tasman Sea to visit our Aussie neighbours! But, we can take direct, longer flights, which are more fuel efficient. And we can use local transport, buses, trains and ferries when we are in country.
  • Next year, instead of loading up the caravan and crossing the Island to your regular beach, why not try something different? There are many cycle paths that allow you to explore a different side to the country. The Department of Conservation also offers well kept walk ways and informative signs throughout the country. A national park is never far away. Eco-tourism adventures are also widely advertised on the internet.

Being an ethical tourist does not have to mean spending more money. It just means doing your research, asking questions and caring about the impact of your holiday.

LEARN MORE

The No-nonsense Guide to Tourism Pamela Nowicka
The Ethical Travel Guide Polly Pattullo and Orely Minelli
(Both books available from Global Focus Aotearoa library)

www.ecotourism.org
www.sustainablestuff.co.uk
www.ecotourism.co.nz
www.maketravelfair.com
www.tourismconcern.org
www.responsibletourism.org.nz