This paper will explore the impact of volunteer tourism on host communities. This will be achieved by analysing peer reviewed on ground research concerning the impact of volunteer tourism. The results of each study will be analysed and discussed to create a picture of the current state of research concerning the impact of volunteer tourism. The conclusions drawn from the research process will then be utilised in discussing the impact which currently exists in such host communities. As the various papers researching this phenomena utilise different research approaches, the methodology used in synthesising their findings will be rooted in qualitative analysis.
Tourism has been a driving force in the economic development of many communities all around the world. From the beaches of Thailand to global capitals such as Paris or New York, tourism has been one driving force of development. (Schubert, Risso, Brida, 2011) But another area of interest apart from economical development which is less explored by scholars is impact of alternative tourism on host communities. Whereas this impact certainly exists in every travel destination, even in the multicultural megacities of the world, it is in the communities of the developing world where it’s impact is most felt. (Ramkissoon, Nunkoo, 2009)
Tourism impact’s has made isolated island communities such as the ones in Phuket or Koh Samui Thailand thriving centres of tourism development and business. (Soontayatron, 2010) But scholars have also argued that tourism in such isolated communities affects their socio-cultural heritage. (Andersson, Lundberg, 2012) Whether the economic benefits of tourism outweigh the socio-cultural impact that tourism can have on host communities will be a topic debated for decades. The focus of this paper is on volunteer tourism, an alternative form of mass tourism. Volunteer tourism, or “voluntarism” is an alternative form of tourism which involves activities which attempt to alleviate suboptimal living conditions of host communities. (Wearing, 2001)
Where as Leiper defines tourists as “a tourist can be defined as a person making a discretionary, temporary tour which involves at least one overnight stay away from the normal place of residence, excepting tours made for the primary purpose of earning remuneration from points en route” (1979) Wearing defines the volunteer tourist as a tourist which “for various reasons volunteers in an organised way to undertake holidays that might involve aiding or alleviating the material poverty of some groups in society, the restoration of certain environments or research into aspects of society or environment” (2001).
From the off set then, volunteer tourism’s object of travel is to positively affect the host community. This is in sharp contrast with mass tourism in which the tourist mostly indulges in leisure activities. Whether and to what extent the objective of volunteer tourism is achieved, and what the impact of this activity is will be explored in the following sections.
In the first study, taking place in Rwanda, Carla Barbier, Carla Almeida Santos and Yasuharu Katsube collected on ground findings from a ten day trip with the volunteer tour provider Amahoro tours. Amahoro means peace in Rwandan, and according to the authors the tour provider prides itself in providing tours which put volunteers in equal positions with local, working hand to hand on common projects. The tour provider also offers services for a gorilla trekking tour. The research methodology chosen by the team of researchers was auto-ethnography which is defined as “the process by which the researcher chooses to make explicit use of his or her own positionality, involvements, and experiences as an integral part of ethnographic research” (Cloke, Crang, & Goodwin, 2005,). Auto-ethnography involves a two stage operation in which the researcher attempts to “unite ethnographic (looking outward at a world beyond one’s own) and autobiographical (gazing inward for a story of one’s self) intentions” (Schwandt, 2001). Data was then collected through direct participation and indirect interviews, meaning that none of the interviewees were aware of the researchers identity and objective while being questioned.