International Voluntourism Guidelines for Commercial Tour Operators

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International Voluntourism Guidelines for Commercial Tour Operators voluntourism-guidelines


The International Voluntourism Guidelines for Commercial Tour Operators















Introduction About the Guidlines Advisory Committee

II. Sustainable Management II-1: Reality Check Local Knowledge and Local Presence Responsibly Managing Volunteer Teaching Programs

III. Measuring, Monitoring & Reporting III-1: Defining Success & Measuring Impact Community Needs Assessment Example: Calabash Tours, South Africa Example: Planeterra Foundation

IV. Maximizing Benefits & Minimizing Negative Footprint IV-1: Benefits for Communities and Local Engagement

V. Useful Tools & Resources V-1: Key Tools and Resources for Voluntourism Providers


I. Overview Why Voluntourism Guidelines? Definitions

II. Sustainable Management II-2: Marketing and Messaging Marketing Tips

I. Overview Background Research Voluntourism in Numbers

II. Sustainable Management II-3: Selecting and Working with Volunteers Voluntario Global FAQs Tips on Communicating with Volunteers

III. Measuring, Monitoring & Reporting III-2: Transparency in Financial Reporting Example: Global Vision International (GVI)

IV. Maximizing Benefits & Minimizing Negative Footprint IV-2: Managing Social and Economic Impacts Example: GVI Child Protection Policy Example: G Adventures

III. Measuring, Monitoring & Reporting III-3: Non-Financial Reporting Communication Tip: Listen to Your Volunteers!

IV. Maximizing Benefits & Minimizing Negative Footprint IV-3: Supporting Biodiversity Conservation and Heritage Preservation Example: SEE Turtles

V. Useful Tools & Resources V-2: Codes of Conduct and Ethical Principles Related to Community Well-Being V-3: Managing the Environmental Impact of Voluntourism Operations


About | Planeterra Foundation | Advisory Committee

About the Guidelines With the support of the Planeterra Foundation, the International Voluntourism Guidelines for Commercial Tour Operators have been developed by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and an international advisory committee. The goal of this project is to develop a practical tool that will help international voluntourism providers plan and manage their programs in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Planeterra Foundation Planeterra Foundation is a non‐profit organization that helps empower local people to develop their communities, conserve cultures and create a humane and supportive system for their endeavors. Planeterra, through its global network of travel industry partners, supports a steady cycle of giving and investment in the social and environmental needs of people and places in the destinations they serve worldwide. TIES would like to thank the following members of the Planeterra team for their contributions to this project: Megan Epler Wood (Co-Executive Director and Voluntourism Guiidelines Project Leader), Paula Vlamings (Co-Executive Director) and, Kelly Galaski (Program & Operations Manager, Latin America).

Advisory Committee TIES would like to thank the following members of the International Voluntourism Guidelines Advisory Committee, who have contributed to this project. Representing a variety of industry sectors and regions, the Advisory Committee members have helped ensure that the guidelines will reflect a diverse range of industry knowledge and experiences.

Bodhi Garrett Co-Director, Andaman Discoveries Thailand

Valeria Gracia Founder, Asociación Civil Voluntario Global Argentina

Sallie Grayson Programme Director, People and Places U.K.

Nancy McGehee, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Virginia Tech University U.S.A.

Paul Miedema Founder, Calabash Tours South Africa

Daniela Ruby Papi Founder, PEPY Tours Cambodia

Leah Griffin Product Innovation Manager, G Adventures Canada

Gopinath Parayil Founder & Chief Executive, The Blue Yonder India

Kristin Lamoureux, Ph.D. Director, Int’l Institute of Tourism Studies, George Washington University U.S.A.

Lelei LeLaulu President, Community Benefit Development U.S.A.

Stephen Wearing, Ph.D Associate Professor, University of Technology Australia

Andy Woods-Ballard Director of Operations, Global Vision International U.K.


I. OVERVIEW Why Voluntourism Guidelines? | Definitions

Why Voluntourism Guidelines? Voluntourism* has experienced significant growth in recent years, and an increasing number of commercial tour operators are adding volunteer opportunities to their itineraries. With such a rapid growth of the popularity and awareness of voluntourism, many tourism businesses and travelers seem to recognize the tremendous potentials that this field has to positively impact destinations and communities around the world.

*What is voluntourism? See information on the definitions of voluntourism below.

The challenge - and opportunity - of transforming good intentions into best practices is a priority for all those involved in voluntourism. In addition to many examples of successful and sustainable voluntourism initiatives, however, there have been concerns regarding cases where voluntourism programs offered by commercial tour operators are mismanaged, leading to negative impacts. Satisfying the desires of travelers to make a difference, giving back to destinations and creating lasting impact, while at the same time ensuring that the local community needs are met, requires effective planning and management, and consistent monitoring of volunteer projects. Responding to the recent trends of commercial tour operators incorporating volunteer programs into their itineraries, as well as the concerns that some companies may simply be “jumping on the bandwagon” to profit from people’s good intentions, the International Voluntourism Guidelines for Commercial Tour Operators have been developed to provide a practical tool to help voluntourism providers* plan and manage their programs in a responsible manner, and to contribute to the long-term success of the voluntourism sector. The Guidelines are designed to facilitate the sustainable development of voluntourism programs, to share insights into managing voluntourism programs responsibly, and to offer lessons learned from successful examples of existing voluntourism initiatives.

*For the purpose of this document, the term “voluntourism providers” is used to describe commercial tour operators providing voluntourism programs as part of their tour offerings. This does not include nonprofit organizations and community-based organizations that have been engaged in related fields (e.g. conservation, development) and have worked with volunteers. Voluntourism providers, as defined in this document this way, is the intended audience of the Voluntourism Guidelines.

Definitions of Voluntourism defines the term “VolunTourism” as “The conscious, seamlessly integrated combination of voluntary service to a destination and the best, traditional elements of travel -- arts, culture, geography, history and recreation -- in that destination.” provides advice and resources for tour operators (


In Volunteer Tourism: Experiences that Make a Difference, Wearing S. L. (2001), the term “voluntourists” is defined as “tourists who, for various reasons, volunteer in an organized 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” (Wearing 2001, p. 1).

Publisher: CABI ( “Volunteer tourism describes a field of tourism, in which travelers visit a destination and take part in projects in the local community. Projects are commonly nature-based, peoplebased...”


PARTNERS & SPECIAL THANKS Background Research | Voluntourism in Numbers

Voluntourism Industry Survey In May - June 2011, TIES and the Planeterra Foundation launched an industry survey to gather data on current issues, challenges, and opportunities in the field of voluntourism. Prior to creating the survey questions, an extensive literature review was conducted to learn more about the current challenges and ongoing work within the voluntourism field. The review included various publications, surveys, recent articles, and existing guidelines. The survey was distributed to members in the TIES database, members of the International Volunteer Programs Association (IVPA), and other professionals or organizations involved with voluntourism for which TIES had contact information. The industry sector categories used for the survey are: academic; tour operator; local NGO/project; international NGO; local business practitioner; international business practitioner; voluntourism provider; and local voluntourism partner organization. The results of the survey are published in the Voluntourism Guidelines Summary Report, compiled and edited by Independent Researcher, Ashley Armstrong (Planeterra Foundation), Megan Epler Wood (Planeterra Foundation) and Ayako Ezaki (TIES) with guidance from the Advisory Committee members.

The summary report is available for download at: voluntourism-research

Stakeholder Meetings In the 2011 Voluntourism Industry Survey, survey respondents emphasized the need for transparency, communication, and information within the field of voluntourism. In many cases, survey respondents noted that appropriate processes are largely dependent on the nature of the project. Thus, projects should be approached on an individual basis, while keeping in mind the importance of being transparent, encouraging open communication, and providing as much information as possible to all parties involved.

TIES and Planeterra Foundation hosted stakeholder meetings during the Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference (Sept. 2011) with facilitation by Dr. Kristin Lamoreaux, and the Adventure Travel World Summit (Oct. 2011) with facilitation by Dr. Kristin Lamoreaux and Alexia Nestora. Based on the data gathered through the Industry Survey and feedback received from the Advisory Committee, the Stakeholder Meetings focused on key issues related to the benefits and impacts of voluntourism programs, and best practices in marketing, communications and reporting by voluntourism providers.

Voluntourism Trends & Discussions In April 2012, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) undertook a survey of over 140 members, who are tour operators working in the adventure travel sector. According to ATTA’s report, 55% of those surveyed “currently run volunteer trips”; of the remaining 45%, over 41% of them are “considering [volunteer trips] for the future”. Reasons cited for this included “growing awareness and demand for ‘giving back’” as well as consumer trends towards local and sustainable initiatives. Source: results-are-in-atta-survey-on-voluntourism

In 2009, Community Marketing, Inc. launched the CMIGreen Traveler Study, designed to provide insights into the sustainable travel market. According to the study, 59.1% of those surveyed said they were interested in volunteering; 74.4% have volunteered while traveling; 37.6% said the availability of volunteer activity encouraged their selection of a destination; 69.9% said that the most important goal of a volunteer travel experience is to “give back.”; and 58% continued to be involved with the project they volunteered with after they returned home. Source:


II. Sustainable Management Reality Check Is Voluntourism Right for You? For any company considering developing voluntourism programs, the most important question that should be asked at the very beginning of the endeavor is: “Is voluntourism right for my company, and why?” As evident from numerous news coverage and industry reports on the growth of volunteer travel, the voluntourism sector offers an attractive opportunity to engage travelers on a personal level and to become actively engaged in projects that benefit local communities. This, however, does not mean that voluntourism is right for all companies. The motivations for setting up voluntourism programs must be in line with the company’s mission and the needs and priorities of those who would be affected by the programs. The following guidelines offer key advice on questions to ask before investing time and resources to develop voluntourism programs, and questions for current voluntourism providers to assess the impact and effectiveness of their ongoing initiatives.

II-1. Reality Check II-1 (a) Voluntourism projects must be developed with the local communities’ needs, and not the travelers’ or the company’s needs, as the first priority. ● Voluntourism programs should be contributing to ongoing local efforts that can then be monitored and supported by invested long-term stakeholders rather than creating initiatives without the full support or buy-in of local people. ● While voluntourism programs may be part of for-profit operations, the core objective of offering voluntourism programs must be to address the needs of local people and their environments. ● The operations of voluntourism programs and volunteers’ activities must not jeopardize the fundamental needs of the local community, such as access to natural resources, rights to public lands and private properties, and the protection of intellectual property.

Case in Point: Local Knowledge and Local Presence “Finding the right way to help” By Valeria Gracia, Voluntario Global, Argentina - In order to successfully translate good intentions into effective programs, voluntourism programs must be developed, by legitimate local community members or organizations, in accordance with the needs of the community. There can always be new needs and programs that can be developed to address those needs, but the right voluntourism opportunity will only be discovered by a local leader or a group of local leaders who work with specific objectives and long-term benefits in mind. Sometimes communities that need help may lack tools and knowledge to effectively identify the root cause of existing problems, so working with a local leader to facilitate this process is important.


A small local bakery cooperative that for years struggled to maintain consistency in the taste, size, and texture of their bread worked with a community leader to identify the root cause of their problem, and discovered that it was partly because the low literacy rate among the workers; they couldn’t follow written recipes. The cooperative was then able to collaborate with a voluntourism organization to set up a new volunteer program helping the bakery workers learn how to read, as well as helping set up an efficient production process. In this example, the community leader’s contribution was critical not only in identifying the problem (inconsistency in bread production) but also the root cause (workers inability to read the recipes), which the cooperative or the voluntourism provider alone couldn’t have achieved.

II. Sustainable Management Why Voluntourism Guidelines? | Definitions II-1 (b) Create opportunities for lasting impact, and not quick change, that are sustainable. Voluntourism programs must be developed based on a clear long-term vision that takes into consideration necessary changes as progress is made, and realistic plans for achieving and adjusting goals in the long-term, so that the programs can be sustained and can continue to offer benefits while at the same time producing tangible results. For instance, once the road has been built, who will maintain it? How will ongoing programming be developed to continue to support locally-prioritized needs?

Case in Point: Responsibly Managing Volunteer Teaching Programs Inefficient and Inconsistent?

Excellence in Teaching

Volunteer programs that involve untrained foreign volunteers participating in short-term teaching tasks (e.g. teaching English) may be an easy way to engage most travelers, but the students will likely suffer the consequences of inconsistent teaching styles and methods, as well as the negative emotional impact of meeting and parting with teachers all the time.

GVI (Global Vision International), the winner of the 2011 Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards for Best Volunteering Organization, has been recognized for excellence in its teaching programs, in which short-term volunteers take on less interactive roles with students and instead assist the longer term volunteers, staff and teachers.

II-1 (c) Conduct a thorough analysis of various alternatives, and develop voluntourism programs only if voluntourism is determined as a suitable option. It is important to recognize that there are many alternative tools and models to help fund and support development projects and sustainability initiatives, and that in some cases, developing volunteer programs may not be feasible or appropriate, for reasons related to local cultural values, available infrastructure, and other factors shaping the local conditions in some destinations.

Examples of Related Opportunities There are a number of ways, including the following examples, tour operators can be part of giving back and making a difference. Evaluating some of these options should be part of the first step of deciding whether voluntourism is right for your company. Exchange Programs: There are many excellent international exchange programs for students and professionals, focusing on educational experiences through cultural exchange, language learning, and community service. Partnering with an exchange program can be an effective way for tourism companies to contribute to local initiatives. Jobs in Teaching, Development and Training: Programs such as Peace Corps ( and UNWTO.Volunteers Programme by the UNWTO.Themis Foundation ( offer professionals with skills in various areas such as education and health the opportunity to work as paid volunteers through medium- to long-term placements. Donating Goods and Resources: Lodges that have programs in place to support the well-being of local community members can involve travelers in their community efforts by accepting donations of necessary supplies. Pack for a Purpose ( offers a convenient platform to facilitate travelers’ donations of goods to participating lodges. Travelers’ Philanthropy: “Travelers’ Philanthropy” is a worldwide movement of travelers and travel companies giving financial resources, time, and talent to further the well-being of local communities. The Center for Responsible Travel offers in-depth information on Travelers’ Philanthropy, including case studies and best practices (


II. Sustainable Management Marketing and Messaging Communicating to Travelers about the WHY of Voluntourism Programs It is important for voluntourism providers to be able to answer the question on why their mission matters, as well as what makes their project effective, how it is achieved, and who is leading the effort. The messaging about voluntourism programs must clearly communicate project impact and demonstrate why volunteers are genuinely required, and help educate travelers about the social, environmental and economic issues that the voluntourism project aims to address before they begin their volunteer program. The following guidelines focus on recommended approaches for voluntourism providers in the areas of marketing and messaging related to their voluntourism programs.

II-2. Marketing and Messaging II-2 (a) Use messaging strategies that clearly convey the goals of voluntourism programs, why they are important and how they make a difference. ● To create effective messaging strategies, focus on concrete examples of what volunteers can expect to gain in terms of experiences and perspectives, as well as the impact of voluntourism projects. ● When establishing the marketing strategies for the voluntourism programs, it is critical that both the voluntourism provider and the local partners share the same message about why the volunteer projects are needed in the community.

II-2 (b) Avoid all forms of poverty marketing - such as using images or words (e.g. “helping people who can’t help themselves”) which belittle or degrade local people. ● The best way to illustrate this point is by asking (when selecting images to use or choosing words to describe voluntourism projects): “If it was your [child/sister/brother/mother] in the picture, or if those words were written about your family, would you be comfortable?”

Marketing Tips: Utilize both online and off-line tools, as well as interactive platforms, to share stories and to engage volunteers in telling the stories of the projects they are supporting. The voice of the community members who benefit from the volunteer projects will be one of the most important story-telling tools. Highlight their stories about the impact of volunteer projects through video interviews. Sharing videos of volunteer activities is an effective way to tell the stories of communities and volunteers. Take advantage of video sharing platforms (e.g. YouTube, Vimeo) to spread the word. Sharing reviews by past volunteers is an effective way to encourage prospective volunteers to learn about the volunteer experience. This can be achieved by creating a web page with messages from past volunteers, posting past volunteer reviews as blog entries, or providing a link to a travel review site (e.g. Lonely Planet Thorn Tree, GO! Overseas). In addition to reviews, other useful information such as stories from the field, local staff’s updates and destination and travel details can be shared through blog posts to engage your audience. Social networking sites can be used not only to promote voluntourism programs and share updates, but also to encourage travelers to interact with each other and exchange comments and ideas. Social platforms (e.g. Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest) can be a powerful tool to engage travelers as active supporters before and after their trips.


II. Sustainable Management Selecting and Working with Volunteers Maximize the Value of Volunteers’ Experience In order to maximize volunteers’ potentials and to create meaningful experiences for both volunteers and host communities, voluntourism providers must recognize pre-trip volunteer communications, training and orientation as a key part of voluntourism program development, and implement steps to address issues and concerns such as volunteers’ skill levels, cross-cultural understanding, and realistic expectations of the impact of volunteer contributions. The following guidelines provide insights into pre-trip communications with volunteers as a critical part of voluntourism providers’ responsibilities.

II-3. Selecting and Working with Volunteers II-3 (a) Proactively assist prospective volunteers with finding projects that appropriately match their interests, skills, budgets and availability. ● Many voluntourism providers have a user-friendly online tool such as a short survey to help identify the right match for volunteers. ● It is recommended that voluntourism providers conduct phone interviews for prospective volunteers to learn about the specific skills and experiences required for each project. ● Voluntourism providers should be prepared to turn down travelers looking to join an experience to which their skills, abilities, interests, or attitudes are not aligned with the needs and expectations of the host project.

II-3 (b) Provide clear explanations on the goals and objectives of volunteer projects, in order to avoid unrealistic expectations or misunderstanding. ● When communicating to volunteers about the projects they are participating in, the pretrip communications should include the “human element” of the voluntourism experience, in addition to technical details. It is helpful to use examples to highlight the expected emotional journey that volunteers may experience during their stay. ● While many travelers may prefer to be part of the beginning of the project (to be a “pioneer”) or the end (to gain a sense of accomplishment), as opposed to joining at the middle stage, it is important for them to understand that voluntourism projects are driven by local needs, and not the desires of the traveler to ‘feel good’. Voluntourism providers must provide sufficient information on why the specific type of work, no matter how mundane or seemingly insignificant, is necessary and important.

● Prospective volunteers should to be able to easily find such details as language requirements, restrictions, and physical work requirements. Level of ability in delivering quality services, such as ability to teach languages, should be explicitly described to ensure the volunteer knows what is expected in advance. ● There should be no “fine print” to the information provided for volunteers. All necessary information regarding the trip and volunteer experience should be available prior to the trip.

Case in Point: Voluntario Global FAQs The following are some frequently asked questions that Voluntario Global ( provides its volunteers as part of pre-departure information: Do we see the “full reality” when we arrive at a community? No, the reality of each person in marginal communities is much more complex than what is shown or can be seen with the naked eye. Why is “making mistakes” considered good in VG? Because perfect projects and perfect volunteer programs do not exist! Because we learn from our mistakes. Mistakes are not failures but opportunities to improve. Is it normal to feel a little disappointed at not being able “to help more” in the project? Yes. As people become more confident with the volunteers, they will be more receptive and the volunteers might become more useful as their proposals will be heard. Trust is not something that can be earned in a set time.


II. Sustainable Management Selecting and Working with Volunteers Check List: Do you have the following information readily available for prospective volunteers considering your trip? Who will provide necessary on-the-ground support? What is the support system available for volunteers - is it coordinated through the voluntourism provider’s home office, or a locally-based system for each project? Before arrival, volunteers need to have a clear understanding of the levels and types of on-site support that will be available to them, details of accommodation arrangement, and what to expect during the stay. What is the emergency action plan of what to do and who to contact in case of emergency? What is the length and scope of training or orientation provided for volunteers? What do volunteers need to bring? What else is recommended for volunteers to pack? (e.g. If staying with a home-stay host, what is the guest expected to bring?) What should volunteers NOT pack?

II-3 (c) Utilize pre-trip orientation to ensure appropriate levels of cross-cultural understanding, cultural sensitivity, and understanding of gender issues among volunteers. As part of pre-trip communications, voluntourism providers should clearly explain cultural standards of the local community (e.g. appropriate attire), and help volunteers prepare for their trip by learning cultural skills that will help make the volunteer’s experience easier.

Tips on Communications with Volunteers: What to Pack, Do’s & Don’ts If there is clothing which is culturally inappropriate for the areas they are visiting, a packing list, with highlighted explicit details about what not to pack and the cultural implications of why, should be sent to the traveler well in advance of their visit so that they do not purchase or pack inappropriate gear. Utilize pre-trip orientation to ensure appropriate levels of understanding regarding natural and cultural heritage sites, and sites of religious or cultural significance that volunteers may come in contact with during their stay, and provide clear guidance on appropriate behaviors at such sites. If there are practices the traveler will need to adhere to, such as not touching a monk on a South East Asia trip, this information should be provided and highlighted in advance of travel, so as to avoid any mishaps on the day of arrival, but should be highlighted again during an on-the-ground orientation to ensure the message was clear. If giving a donation is an acceptable and effective way to contribute to community needs in certain destinations, voluntourism providers should provide guidance on how to give, as well as information on what the money will be used for.


II. Sustainable Management Selecting and Working with Volunteers II-3 (d) Provide sufficient information on volunteer opportunities that are available to travelers with special needs, as well as clear guidance on accessibility services and assistance available upon request.


II-3 (e) Implement steps to gather feedback from participating volunteers and promptly address any negative feedback. â—? It is important for all volunteers to know how to give feedback, and feel confident that they are welcome and encouraged to share any feedback, positive or negative. Surveys that encourage objective remarks at the end of each visit are ideal. â—? Negative feedback should be requested as soon as issues arise and addressed in a timely and professional manner. It is important to follow up to inform past and future volunteers of what is being done or has been done to rectify the issue. â—? If there is a third party operating the travel experience, the traveler should be asked to give feedback to them as well as directly to the voluntourism provider, in order to ensure that the advertised voluntourism experience matches with the realities of their trip.

II-3 (f) Clearly communicate about the possibility that volunteering is not the right option for some travelers due to a variety of reasons, and offer advice on other options to contribute to local community goals.


III. Measuring, Monitoring and Reporting Defining Success and Measuring Impact Measuring Success An important part of voluntourism providers’ project development and management strategies must be measuring, monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of each volunteer project. Measuring success will mean different things to different voluntourism providers, based on the types, scopes and locations of their operations; however, it is critical for all voluntourism providers to put in place a consistent process to assess, analyze and report on the impacts of volunteer activities. The following guidelines offer guidance on specific steps that voluntourism providers must take in order to define success and measure impact, which will help make the reporting on voluntourism projects effective and credible.

III-1: Defining Success and Measuring Impact III-1 (a) Conduct community needs assessment in order to ensure that the voluntourism program is fulfilling the needs of the community, and to ensure volunteer projects’ benefits for local people. • Voluntourism projects should be set up when existing ongoing community or local organization-led projects have specific areas in which volunteers can contribute to the larger and ongoing goals of that overarching project. • Community needs assessment, therefore, should evaluate whether the current local projects have laid out their goals and metrics for success, and have established how volunteers can be utilized.

III-1 (b) Collaborate with local partners to clearly define what the success of voluntourism projects means to the organization, to volunteers, and to community stakeholders. ● When identifying the right methods to measure voluntourism projects’ achievements, be sure to weigh the pros and cons of each method and compare alternatives. For example, the number of books donated may be a convenient way of keeping track of the growth of a reading program, but may not address students’ reading ability in a meaningful way. On the other hand, measuring the literacy rate among students can be an effective way to monitor progress, but literacy can be laborious to measure. ● The impacts of voluntourism projects, in terms of meaningful benefits to communities and destinations, sometimes can only be measured in the long-term. For instance, the number of trees planted per trip does not give the full picture of the benefits that the tree planting program offers. A more valuable way to measure the program’s impact would be to use such indicators as the number of community members trained to properly manage the land where trees are planted, and additional environmental and educational benefits that tree planting provides. ● Depending on the size and scope of voluntourism providers’ operations, there will be different types of requirements to fulfill in order to properly measure and monitor the impacts of voluntourism projects. It is recommended that voluntourism providers seek best practice examples of organizations that are of similar size.


III. Measuring, Monitoring and Reporting Defining Success and Measuring Impact

Community Needs Assessment There are numerous ways to approach this very important step, all of which require an investment of time, money, and expertise, and all require strong collaboration within the destination community. Some examples of community needs assessment methods include: SWOT analysis: Create a matrix of a given project’s Strengths, Weaknesses (or Limitations), Opportunities and Threats in order to evaluate the project’s potential and to determine whether the objective is attainable. “Future’s Wheel” exercise with community stakeholder input: The Futures Wheel exercise forms the foundation for a workshop or a collaborative meeting to assess community needs and identify opportunities. A Futures Wheel usually begins with a “What if …?” question or a statement about a desirable future. The desirable future statement is placed in a circle in the center of a large page or on a white board. Participants are then asked to suggest a series of necessary conditions that must happen to achieve that desirable future. Each of these conditions is given its own circle in a first ring around the desirable future center, connected with spokes of the wheel. The participants are then asked to think further about these conditions and what could contribute to them. This forms the next ring around the center of the wheel, and also is connected with spokes. The outcome after three or four rounds of discussion is a series of pathways between different types of ideas, necessary conditions and opportunities, and a desirable future of the community. (Source: McGehee et all, TTRA conference 2012)

Community Capitals Framework: Community Capitals Framework (Cornelia and Jan Flora, 2008) looks at key characteristics of entrepreneurial and sustainable communities that are most successful in supporting a vital economy, social inclusion and healthy ecosystems. These communities pay attention to all seven types of capital: natural, cultural, human, social, political, financial and built. In addition to identifying the capitals and the role each plays in community economic development, this approach also focuses on the interaction among these seven capitals as well as how investments in one capital can build assets in others. (Source:

Example from the Field: Calabash Tours, South Africa “Monitoring and evaluation are not exact science because outcomes often take time to manifest. We have also found that sometimes we find “new” indicators we had not thought of. In our education programme, we compare the results of the school we are active in to local, provincial, and national performance in external exams. This is an effective measurement. However, we have found that volunteers drive up school attendance, as children enjoy the new input. This was not something we started measuring, we simply observed it. So we need to keep in mind that indicators are dynamic.” - Paul Miedema, Founder, Calabash Tours, South Africa


III. Measuring, Monitoring and Reporting Defining Success and Measuring Impact III-1 (c) Implement a system to conduct third-party community needs assessment on a regular basis, not only at the beginning but throughout the project. ● While there are various existing tools and programs (e.g. third-party rating systems or standards) that can help track voluntourism providers’ triple-bottom-line performance, first and foremost, voluntourism providers should ensure that objective and professional approach to assess community needs on an ongoing basis is in place. ● If the voluntourism provider is partnering with a locally based organization, the official impact assessment procedure should be understood and agreed upon in advance, and if the organization must incur additional costs to monitor the voluntourism impact, the voluntourism operator should consider how they will contribute to funding these costs.

III-1 (d) Establish a system to monitor progress and measure impact, taking into account local capacity-building needs and improvements. ● Where possible, plan and develop programs in a way that volunteers do not need to be relied on perpetually into the future. If the volunteer is providing a skill which is not readily available in the local community or project team, for example, the volunteer’s responsibilities should include helping other long-term project members to develop the necessary skills to manage certain aspects of the programs (e.g. accounting, marketing) in the long term. ● Where possible, plan and develop programs with an “exit strategy”; a plan of passing the program into the hands of local community members, taking into account questions such as: is there a local community group or organization prepared to take the efforts on, and are they receiving proper training to achieve necessary ongoing maintenance?

Example from the Field: Planeterra Foundation Impact Monitoring for Volunteer Projects: Planeterra Foundation works to link community projects with travel industry partners in order to develop volunteer trips. The foundation, based in Toronto, Canada, has over 20 projects around the world with a growing need for local interface and management. In 2010, the Planeterra Ambassador program was established to provide monitoring and evaluation in hubs including Thailand, Costa Rica, Peru and Egypt. Planeterra Ambassadors are hired primarily from the talent team represented by tour leaders working locally for Planeterra’s primary sponsor, G Adventures. These Ambassadors are carefully vetted and work on contract directly for Planeterra to review project performance based on clear criteria established for all Planeterra projects. The new Voluntourism Guidelines criteria will guide Planeterra’s efforts to measure the impact and evaluate the success of their volunteer projects. In the fall of 2012, a baseline socio-economic study will be initiated to measure progress on all Planeterra projects. Draft evaluation and monitoring items include: • Risk Mitigation: What issues, if any, are you encountering at the project site that Planeterra should be aware of? What are the steps you are taking to resolve this? • Number of Individuals directly served. • Populations served by project including rural communities, indigenous peoples, women, etc. • Economic impact of visitors. • Environmental mitigation actions & conservation initiatives. • Revenues and profits of small business supported by grants.

• Social Impacts: • Improved access to education: Number of new school rooms; Teaching resources and aids; Workshops and technical education. • Improved access to health: Number of new clinical spaces established; New equipment; New staff; Medications. • Improved access to markets: Number of new clients attracted by small enterprises; New marketing and sales opportunities.

III-1 (e) Clearly outline and implement a consistent process in which volunteers who behave inappropriately or unethically can be removed from a project. • If the volunteers are working in a community project or with a partner organization, the partner should be able to remove the volunteer from the project due to unethical or harmful behavior, and the partner organization should be able to dissolve the partnership should they find that the volunteer program is ineffective or causing harm. • The terms upon which a volunteer could be removed or the partnership dissolved should be agreed upon in advance, in a manner that is transparent and fair to all parties including local communities, partner organizations and voluntourism providers.


III. Measuring, Monitoring and Reporting Transparency in Financial Reporting Where Does the Money Go? One of the questions often asked by travelers and host community members regarding voluntourism is “Why do travelers pay to volunteer their time?”. It is important for voluntourism providers to have a good answer to this question, not only because it is good customer service practice, but also because the answer is key to explaining how voluntourism works: where does the money go and how does the volunteer project make an impact? From the business perspective, it is also important to acknowledge that there is a value-added in being transparent, because it offers the opportunity for voluntourism providers to distinguish themselves by establishing a positive reputation as a transparent, responsible, and reliable organization. The following guidelines address key issues related to financial reporting by voluntourism providers, and offer guidance on how best to ensure transparency, responsibility, and accountability in financial reporting of voluntourism programs.

III-2: Transparency in Financial Reporting III-2 (a) Implement a consistent method to calculate and report on the amount of money per trip that goes to support the community or destination, and the amount that goes to support the operations of voluntourism programs. Depending on the size, type, and location of the voluntourism project, the “amount that goes back to the community” may be measured differently; therefore, it is critical that voluntourism providers clearly explain how this is calculated and provide regular and consistent reporting.

III-2 (b) Employ a consistent method of calculating and reporting on the amount of both cash and in-kind donations. ● If accepting unrestricted funds through individual donations is part of voluntourism providers’ operations, the costs involved in raising and managing such funds, including transaction fees, should clearly be indicated as part of annual financial reporting. ● The amount of money donated to the partner organization, if any, should be made clear.

Example from the Field: Global Vision International (GVI) GVI reports on the financial contributions of voluntourism projects and their impact by calculating the percentage of volunteer fees that goes to the field operations: “70% of funds from volunteer fees goes to field operations”*. “Field operations” as referred to here include in-country services such as airport pick-ups, food, and accommodations. This is a “supply chain approach” to reporting on the financial impact of voluntourism in each destination, looking at all aspects of voluntourism trips, including local operators and in-country field staff. This model shows what stays in country, and thus focuses on the impact of voluntourism for the sustainable development of the destination overall, rather than just on community development. GVI informs travelers about how the rest (30%) of volunteer fees is used: “The remaining 30% that is not directly invested in our programs covers the cost of volunteer recruitment, the operations of our head offices, and the support of projects indirectly through the GVI Charitable Trust. Our offices are of vital importance to ensure the safety and well-being of all our volunteers and our charity is an essential tool of providing financial support to our ongoing efforts.” (*Source: “Participant Fees” on GVI’s website:


III. Measuring, Monitoring and Reporting Transparency in Non-Financial Reporting Storytelling as Part of Objective Reporting While non-financial aspects of voluntourism providers’ impacts and achievements are difficult to measure, part of the main objectives of annual reports should be reporting on social impacts, intangible benefits and non-financial contributions that voluntourism programs make. This type of reporting is not necessarily a clear value-added, but may serve as a marketing differentiator, because in today’s world of social media and instant communications, where travelers have the means to readily share their opinions (positive or negative) and find others’, being seen as a trustworthy and reliable organization is a clear advantage. The following guidelines provide insights into best practices in non-financial reporting as an essential part of objective and transparent communications on voluntourism providers’ performance.

III-3: Transparency in Non-Financial Reporting III-3 (a) Make publicly available information on the short- and long-term impact of voluntourism projects in order to help travelers make objective decisions in choosing a volunteer opportunity. ● Reporting on the short-term impact of voluntourism should include: results of voluntourism projects; which goals were achieved; economic and other benefits; and feedback from the local partner. ● Reporting on the long-term impact of voluntourism should include: the economic, environmental and social sustainability of voluntourism projects; the benefits of training and other opportunities that local community members have access to because of volunteers’ work; and additional benefits for the local community that are made possible by voluntourism programs (e.g. local infrastructure improvements). ● In most voluntourism programs, the volunteers themselves receive an explicit benefit, and this should also be tracked and reported. Measuring success in educating travelers on responsible tourism behaviors, cultural norms, and a humble approach to their volunteer activities is essential and interconnected with the overall program impact.

III-3 (b) Include transparent reporting on the results and findings of regular community needs assessments. Having an ongoing community needs assessment system led by a third-party professional will help ensure transparency in the evaluation process, as well as the credibility of reporting.


III. Measuring, Monitoring and Reporting Transparency in Non-Financial Reporting III-3 (c) Show, not just tell, the values of voluntourism programs


● Telling stories and sharing anecdotes from the local community members’ perspectives (explaining their experiences in their own words) can be an effective way to complement financial and non-financial reporting of the impacts of voluntourism programs. For example, what have they witnessed after volunteers left the site? Would they choose to work with the voluntourism provider again for a different project? ● Telling stories and sharing anecdotes through firsthand accounts of past volunteers can also be a valuable addition to voluntourism providers’ reporting on voluntourism programs’ impacts and the benefits for participating travelers. For instance, what were some of the most important lessons they’ve learned, and how have they grown from the volunteer experience?

Communication Tip: Listen to Your Volunteers! To find honest opinions by past volunteers about your programs, be sure to monitor what they are sharing on social sites like Facebook, and not just what is posted on your own page but also what people are saying about your programs on other pages. For example, in TIES’ case, monitor both the official Facebook page ( and the unofficial page (

Save and regularly monitor a Twitter search for your organization’s name and other relevant terms. For example, monitor Twitter search feed for hashtag #voluntourism (See photo:


IV. Maximizing Benefits and Minimizing Negative Footprint Benefits for Communities and Local Engagement Collaborating with Local Communities Establishing and maintaining a positive relationship with local volunteer project managers and partners is critical to the success of any voluntourism program operations. Serious problems might arise unless both parties share an appropriate understanding of business standards that the voluntourism provider follows, and the local needs and priorities based on the community’s social and cultural values. The following guidelines address issues and opportunities related to community engagement and local participation in voluntourism programs.

IV-1: Benefits for Communities and Local Engagement IV-1 (a) Ensure effective approaches to collaborating with local communities by building relationships with community groups and families. It is important to note that establishing a partnership with a community is not a simple task that could be achieved by just having a meeting with a community leader. Voluntourism providers must actively seek feedback and engagement not only from community members that play leadership roles such as public officials and heads of local NGOs, but also from those that represent less prominent groups, in order to gain tangible insights into the local community members’ perspectives about tourism development and their opinions on hosting volunteers in their community.

IV-1 (b) Provide local community members with sufficient information on the effectiveness of the volunteer projects, and the expected impact of the volunteer projects both in the short and long term. ● In order to ensure that volunteer projects are supported by local stakeholders, voluntourism providers must demonstrate how volunteers can contribute to local community needs, and how the projects depend on volunteers to attain tangible results. ● It is recommended that voluntourism providers develop a few measurable indicators (where appropriate measured against local or national benchmarks) that can be used to provide concrete examples of volunteers’ contributions.

IV-1 (c) Seek feedback from local community members regarding their experiences hosting, interacting and collaborating with international volunteers. ● There must be a process in place to regularly gather feedback in order for voluntourism providers to assess whether local community members involved in voluntourism projects are satisfied with the impact and progress made by the projects. ● Local community members should feel comfortable about expressing their opinions about the voluntourism projects and about the volunteers’ work performance. ● Negative feedback should be addressed in a timely and professional manner, and voluntourism providers should inform community members of what is being done or has been done to rectify the issue.


IV. Maximizing Benefits and Minimizing Negative Footprint Managing Social and Economic Impacts Good Intentions Are Not Enough When it comes to the social and economic impacts of voluntourism, especially for voluntourism programs that involve working with marginalized community members, poor families, children and women, good intentions are not enough, and industry experience has shown that good intentions without responsible management policies and practices can - and often will - do more harm than good. The following guidelines focus on effectively managing the social and economic impacts of voluntourism programs, and thereby helping maximize the benefits of voluntourism programs for the local communities and destinations.

IV-2: Managing Social and Economic Impacts IV-2 (a) Develop and implement a code of conduct regarding working with local and Indigenous communities, families and children, and respecting their rights, needs and priorities. In order for this process to be successful and effective, it must be led by local community stakeholders who have the experience and knowledge to guide the process.

Example from the Field: GVI Child Protection Policy “GVI Child Protection Policy aims to ensure that the actions of any person in the context of the work carried out by Global Vision International are transparent and safeguard and promote the welfare of all young people and children associated with the organization. Principles upon which the Child Protection Policy is based: • The welfare of a child or young person will always be paramount. • The welfare of families will be promoted. • The rights, wishes and feelings of children, young people and their families will be respected and listened to. • The organization will follow safer recruitment practices and criminal background checks during our selection process for all GVI staff and any volunteers working on GVI childcare and teaching projects. • Any allegations of abuse will be taken seriously and the appropriate Child Protection Procedures will be followed. • Those people in positions of trust or responsibility within the organization will work in accordance with the legal and safe guarding frameworks as well as with the interests of children and young people, following GVI Child Protection Policy at all times.” (Source:


IV. Maximizing Benefits and Minimizing Negative Footprint Managing Social and Economic Impacts IV-2 (b) Maximize the opportunities to provide financial benefits for local people by incorporating responsible and equitable employment, capacity building, and fair-trade practices where applicable. In order to effectively track benefits for local community members, voluntourism providers should work with community leaders to assess the progress of volunteer initiatives.

IV-2 (c) Voluntourism providers should not only comply with international standards of responsible business practices, but also proactively support the efforts to combat all types of commercial sexual exploitation in destinations and tourism establishments. ● Voluntourism providers, as part of their commitment to ethical business practice and respect for human rights, should comply with such internationally accepted standards as the Tourism Child Protection Code of Conduct ( and the Child Safe Network’s ChildSafe Traveler Tips ( ● Voluntourism providers should engage trained staff member(s) responsible for implementing a child protection policy.

IV-2 (d) Require background checks before selecting volunteers, including (but not limited to) criminal record and criminal history checks, in order to protect the safety of all parties involved.

Example from the Field: G Adventures For G Adventures’ volunteer trips (both for sale by G Adventures directly and exclusively produced trips for sale by STA Travel), the company employs a criminal background check for all trips involving children or elderly. The volunteers buying trips through travel agents go through this process after they purchase the trips, but the company reserves the right to cancel and refund if there are any charges or red flags in their background check, application form, and reference letter (all three of these items are collected at time of booking confirmation and red flags are sent to local projects for their final decision on whether or not the volunteer may participate). See more information here:

IV-2 (e) Implement a strict zero-tolerance policy to ensure there is no inappropriate behaviors by volunteers when interacting with children. Establish contact with appropriate local authorities in case of any violation; voluntourism providers must be able to react quickly and appropriately.


IV. Maximizing Benefits and Minimizing Negative Footprint Why Conservation Voluntourismand Guidelines? Definitions Supporting Biodiversity Heritage |Preservation Minimizing Negative Footprint, Maximizing Positive Impact Voluntourism providers have the opportunity to positively contribute to the protection of wildlife, the conservation of biodiversity, and the efforts to protect and preserve tangible heritage (e.g. buildings and historic places, monuments, artifacts) and intangible heritage (e.g. folklore, traditions, language, and knowledge) through effective volunteer programs that support social, environmental and economic sustainability. Many travelers, after experiencing the world’s beautiful natural and cultural treasures, become advocate for conservation and heritage preservation. The personal connections that travelers cultivate through engaging travel experiences such as volunteering - are a powerful tool to protect what makes our travel experiences so unique and memorable. The following guidelines focus on basic tenets of impact management and conservation practices that voluntourism providers should strive to follow in order to contribute positively to biodiversity conservation and heritage preservation efforts.

IV-3: Supporting Biodiversity Conservation and Heritage Preservation IV-3 (a) Develop and manage wildlife conservation and heritage preservationrelated volunteer projects with the emphasis on local context. ● No conservation or preservation program can be successful unless the local community members are the primary stakeholders in the efforts. ● By engaging, educating and empowering local community members to be the stewards of these efforts, voluntourism providers will be able to enhance the positive impact of their work in the areas of biodiversity conservation and heritage preservation.

IV-3 (b) Implement a strict code of conduct to ensure responsible behaviors by volunteers when they come in contact with cultural heritage, historic sites, or artifacts. It must be clearly communicated to volunteers that irresponsible behaviors such as graffiti, unauthorized purchase or trading and disrespectful display, are not tolerated.

IV-3 (c) Implement a strict code of conduct to ensure responsible behaviors by volunteers when interacting with wildlife or working in areas close to wildlife habitats.

Example from the Field: SEE Turtles SEE Turtles, a conservation tourism project by The Ocean Foundation, provides travelers with advice on how to reduce impact and do’s and dont’s when turtle watching: “When you visit a nesting beach, go with a trained, professional guide who can ensure your safety and the turtle’s. In the water, whether boating, snorkeling, or diving, remember that the ocean is home for turtles and other wildlife.” (Source: www.

● Pre-departure materials and on-the-ground orientations should provide specific instructions on ways to reduce the negative impact of the tourism experience. ● It must be clearly communicated to volunteers that unauthorized or improper interaction with wildlife is not tolerated. ● In addition to minimizing direct disturbance, voluntourism providers and volunteers should also strive to minimize any indirect impact on wildlife, such as noise and light pollution and runoff water pollution.


V. Useful Tools & Resources Key Tools and Resources for Voluntourism Providers Take Advantage of Existing Industry Knowledge and Tools A number of organizations have created tools to assist tour operators in successfully implementing voluntourism projects in a socially, environmentally and economically sustainable manner. Utilizing these existing tools is a smart way for voluntourism providers to take advantage of current industry knowledge and learn from other organizations’ experiences, lessons, and best practice examples. This section provides information on some of the existing tools and resources (listed below in alphabetical order) that are available for voluntourism providers, and insights on how they might be utilized as part of strategies for planning and managing voluntourism programs in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Any other suggestions on voluntourismrelated tools and resources? Please feel free to contact TIES (info@ecotourism. org) and let us know! We will continue to share relevant information on voluntourism through our website (, TIES-EXCHANGE network (, and other channels, and welcome feedback on an ongoing basis.

V-1: Key Tools and Resources for Voluntourism Providers FTTSA (Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa)

Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA) Certification Standards: Building on the “Code of Good Practice for Responsible Volunteering”, which was launched in 2008, the FTTSA’s certification program was expanded, in 2010, to incorporate certification standards for voluntourism organizations.

Fair Trade Volunteering

The Fair Trade Volunteering Criteria: 1. Minimum “Local Investment” Level: Organizations provide investment into the project itself above and beyond the volunteer’s time and work. This can be in the form of finance, resources or training. 2. Long Term Commitment to the Project (Min. 3 Years): Organizations have a direct relationship with the host project or community, and develop the project in joint communication with their project partners. 3. Clear and Honest Project Description and Thorough Volunteer Preparation: Give clear, comprehensive and honest descriptions of their projects and have an appropriate pre-departure selection, preparation and training programme. 4. In-Country Support and Project Management: Volunteers receive constant support and regular communication while on site at their project. 5. 100% Volunteer Expenses Covered by the Placement Organization, Not the Local Community: Organisations ensure that 100% of volunteer expenses on site (food, accommodation, transport) are covered, and are not in any way the responsibility of the local community.

IVPA (International Volunteer Programs Association)

Principles and Practices: IVPA supports and advocates these Principles and Practices as a means of ensuring program quality and appropriate volunteer behavior in international/intercultural settings. They are also meant to give prospective volunteers a reliable basis on which to choose worthwhile program experiences.

PEPY Tours

Voluntourism101: Voluntourism101 is a tool created to help tour operators and volunteer sending agencies check their practices against the most effective practices shared by groups around the world. It is also a tool for travelers to help them identify the best questions to ask before their next philanthropic travel experience. In addition, the Learning Service Guidelines are designed to help travelers and tour operators consider the educational impact on travel with regards to the learning opportunities for the travelers themselves.

Tourism Concern

The Gap Year and International Volunteering Standards (GIVS): GIVS aims to promote best practice in international volunteering, to maximise the beneficial developmental impacts in the communities where volunteering takes place, minimise the negative impacts, and to ensure volunteers have a worthwhile experience.

Year Out Group

Member’s Charter: The Year Out Group Member’s Charter aims to ensure certain standards of quality and professional conduct. Adherence to Member’s Charter is a condition of membership and all members are required to sign a declaration of agreement to abide by it.


V. Useful Tools & Resources Community Well-Being | Environmental Impact

V-2: Codes of Conduct and Ethical Principles Related to Community Well-Being The Tourism ChildProtection Code of Conduct

The Code: The Code of Conduct for the protection of children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism is an industry driven responsible tourism initiative co-funded by the Swiss Government (SECO) and by the tourism private sector and supported by the ECPAT (Ending Child Prostitution and Trafficking) International network, in partnerships with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

The ChildSafe Network

ChildSafe: The ChildSafe Network, initiated and coordinated by Friends-International, is a proactive child-protection network involving key members of society, protecting children from all forms of abuse and preventing child exploitation and trafficking.

Fair Trade Federation

Fair Trade Principles: ○ Create Opportunities for Economically and Socially Marginalized Producers ○ Develop Transparent and Accountable Relationships ○ Build Capacity ○ Promote Fair Trade ○ Pay Promptly and Fairly ○ Support Safe and Empowering Working Conditions ○ Ensure the Rights of Children ○ Cultivate Environmental Stewardship ○ Respect Cultural Identity

V-3: Managing the Environmental Impact of Voluntourism Operations TIES (The International Ecotourism Society)

The definition and principles of ecotourism: Ecotourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” (TIES, 1990) Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement and participate in ecotourism activities should follow the following ecotourism principles: ○ Minimize impact. ○ Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect. ○ Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts. ○ Provide direct financial benefits for conservation. ○ Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people. ○ Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate.

GSTC (Global Sustainable Tourism Council)

The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria: The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria, established by the GSTC, are organized around four main themes (effective sustainability planning; maximizing social and economic benefits for the local community; enhancing cultural heritage; and reducing negative impacts to the environment), and provide the minimum standards for sustainable tourism. The Criteria include recommendations on environmental practices such as: measuring and reducing consumption and waste, monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, and greening the supply chain of tourism operations.


The research and development project to produce the International Voluntourism Guidelines for Commercial Tour Operators has been made possible by the generous support of the Planeterra Foundation.

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