Voluntourism – More Harm Than Good?

Voluntourism – More Harm Than Good?Voluntourism – More Harm Than Good?

Voluntourism is a form of tourism in which travelers participate in voluntary work, typically for a charity. Helping out at an African nursery or digging trenches in rural India might have become a fashionable  and an expensive rite of passage for thousands of young people each year, but volunteers could often do more good staying at home and assisting communities on their own doorstep, a conference on ethical tourism heard.

The growing trend for gap years in far-flung places, often combining an element of work in a developing country has become one of the fastest-growing phenomena in the global travel industry.

However, a leading UK charity is warning that while often well intentioned in their motives, altruistic young travelers can end up doing more harm than good to their host communities, Independent newspaper reported.


Mounting concern that the desire to work in orphanages in countries such as Cambodia and Nepal is actually leading to the abandonment or even abduction of children from their parents to fuel the boom in eager tourists has led to calls for a radical rethink on the ethics of so-called volunteerism.

Delegates at a one-day conference at Braithwaite Hall in Croydon, south London, organized by Tourism Concern will seek to persuade prospective volunteers to think hard about their choice of destination.

The charity’s executive director Mark Watson said that whilst the desire to help others was commendable – too many expensive commercial volunteering opportunities ended up exploiting both those offering help whilst harming the lives of those meant to be on the receiving end.

“Volunteers often have unfulfilling and disappointing experiences; volunteer placements can prevent local workers from getting much-needed jobs; hard-pressed institutions waste time looking after them and money upgrading facilities; and abused or abandoned children form emotional attachments to the visitors, who increase their trauma by disappearing back home after a few weeks,” Watson said.

“We feel that there are many opportunities for people to undertake meaningful volunteering in their own community, where they will receive proper training, support and supervision – without the need to pay a tour operator for the privilege.

In the majority of cases people would be far better (and have a more rewarding experience) volunteering at home and spending their money on traveling and staying in places listed in our Ethical Travel Guide,” he added.

  Volunteering Importance

The issue with voluntourism is that it does not go to the root institutional and structural causes of the problem. This being said, it would be wrong to deny, across the board, the importance of the work voluntourists do. Volunteers in developing countries fund and deliver great programs that would not happen otherwise, but the sustainability and the effectiveness of the approach is what is here in question.

  What Can Be Done

Time and energy would be better spent building real solidarity between disparate societies based on mutual respect and understanding. Instead of focusing on surface symptoms of poverty, volunteers and the organizations that recruit them should focus on the causes that often stem from the unjust global economic order. The idea is to get volunteers to understand their own (direct or indirect) role in global poverty. The idea is to get volunteers truly interested in ending poverty, and not simply to feel better about themselves.