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The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), Digital Traveler ~ Asia Pacific eNewsletter, October 2006


Voluntourism Explained
By Jason Rolan, Voluntourism Director
North by North East Travel Services (Thailand/Lao PDR)

When presenting my business card to colleagues in the travel industry, I am often asked, “Voluntourism?
What’s that?”

Simply, it is tourism activities comprising varying degrees of volunteering. North by North East (NXNE)
further sees it as a wonderful opportunity to develop meaningful contact with people, bridging the cultural
gap between “us” and “them” and to bringing us closer to a global “we.”

NXNE was founded on the philosophy that meaningful cultural exchange and respect are requisite to a
great travel experience. Of all our products and community projects, the one that provides the most
unique and powerful cultural exchange is voluntourism. When implemented correctly, a magical and very
personal exchange positively changes and enhances lives.

Our voluntourism projects vary from several days

to several weeks and focus on infrastructure or
educational needs of a rural community. For
example, earlier this year we facilitated a group of
35 Canadian high school students to construct a
school in a remote rural area of northern Lao PDR.
The students raised funds to cover the travel and
construction costs and even to bring along a much
needed team of dentists.

As there are no roads in the region, the volunteers had to travel by boat along
the rivers of the mountainous northern Lao to arrive at the beautifully remote
village setting.

While both the Canadians and Laotians were shy at first, the bonds of
friendship that developed from living and working together smoothed the
cultural exchange. On the last day of the project, when the hard work of
building the school was complete, the hardest part was still to come - saying
goodbye to new friends.

Successful projects such as the above are logistically easy to set up.
Difficulties arise in determining local community needs, which requires sensitivity and skill. The key is
keeping it meaningful for those who are to host the project. Failing to do so can result in volunteers
projecting perceived needs, instead of meeting actual needs.

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), Digital Traveler ~ Asia Pacific eNewsletter, October 2006

Voluntourists come from all walks of life and also

have needs. We have had school groups volunteering
as enrichment to their classroom learning.
Sometimes, we facilitate groups of seniors who want
to share their experiences and resources with
orphanages. Extremely remote villages in central
Laos have benefited from the care and medical
training of US and British paramedics and
dentists hiking into rugged regions. Success therefore
depends not only on determining the actual needs of
the local community but matching that with the
capacity of the volunteers.

Is voluntourism the beginning of the end for “standard”

tourism? Certainly not! Most volunteers want
sightseeing and other tourist activities. Voluntourism
programs are typically designed to meet both the
volunteers work abilities and travel preferences.

So what is voluntourism? It is a wonderful and growing

segment of the travel industry. It reminds us that when
we give of ourselves to strangers, it makes them seem
not so strange anymore.

Jason Rolan is Director of Volunteer Programs and Lao Country Manager. North by North East
(www.north-by-north-east.com) is specialty tour operator dedicated to responsible tourism, community
development and voluntourism.


Lukac, Jenni, Helper's High: The Psychological Benefits of Volunteer Tourism www.north-by-north-

Pedersen, Erin, Changing Laos, Changing Myself www.north-by-north-east.com/articles/05_06_1.asp

What is Voluntourism? www.north-by-north-east.com/articles/08_05_1.asp