Is Voluntourism always a positive thing?

On the face of it you would think that voluntourism would be a positive thing which gives both parties involved a winning situation, volunteers can do good, travel the world and help out, those on the receiving end will get help that they need. With this being said, voluntourism has come under fire in recent years after the increasing popularity of it has been pounced on by companies who are looking to do nothing more than making a quick buck. It makes sense why so many people would jump on the voluntourism bandwagon, but is it always something that is positive?

Let’s take a look.

Short Term

One of the biggest criticisms that this form of tourism receives is that the companies who offer it give the impression that their customers can really make a powerful difference to plights around the world. Unfortunately however, many of the trips which are offered and for nothing more than a number of weeks or perhaps a month, and industry insiders rightly point out that this simply isn’t enough time to make a big difference, if anything at all. The problem with these short term visits is that by the time a volunteer has been trained and acclimatized, it is almost time for them to head back.


A quick look at some of the tour company websites who offer volunteerism will show you just who self-serving they are aiming to be. The questions which you answer on the website are things like ‘where would you like to go?’ ‘what would you like to see?’ and ‘how long do you wish to go for?’ as opposed to far more pertinent questions that should be asked such as ‘what skills do you have?’ and ‘how are you able to help?’. The very nature of the way that voluntourism is pitched, is much of the problem that the industry faces.


Making a Difference

Another big criticism of this form of volunteering is that this who opt to get involved, can rarely make much of a difference to the project which they are working on. Writer Pippa Biddle wrote an interesting piece recently on just why most of these volunteering projects do not have the impact which they are designed to.

“I am not a teacher, a doctor, a carpenter, a scientist, an engineer, or any other professional that could provide concrete support and long-term solutions to communities in developing countries. I am a 5′ 4″ white girl who can carry bags of moderately heavy stuff, horse around with kids, attempt to teach a class, tell the story of how I found myself (with accompanying powerpoint) to a few thousand people and not much else.”


In truth, the idea of people all over the world wishing to help out the planet is never, ever going to be a negative thing, but there is some work to be done. This voluntourism industry needs to be radically altered and the companies involved must take center stage in doing so. The idea of volunteering should be win-win, and when people with good lives simply want to dip their toe in the voluneering industry, just to say that they’ve done it, yet without making any real difference, a problem exists that must be changed.

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