Volunteer Tourism, an ambiguous phenomenon: An analysis of the demand and supply for the volunteer tourism market

Tomazos, Konstantinos (2009) Volunteer Tourism, an ambiguous phenomenon: An analysis of the demand and supply for the volunteer tourism market. PhD thesis, University Of Strathclyde.

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One of the more recent forms of tourism to emerge from the continuing fragmentation of tourism into many different forms is what has become known as Volunteer Tourism. Although itself taking on a number of variations, it is essentially the practice of individuals going on a working holiday and volunteering their labour for worthy causes. The concept of volunteer work has existed for several decades since its origins immediately following the First World War, but the idea of combining this activity with tourism is relatively new and has already changed considerably over a very short period. This thesis reviews the process by which volunteer tourism has developed, focusing on its transformation from an individual altruistic endeavour to a more commercial form of conventional tourism. As such, volunteer tourism has mirrored in many ways the development and commercialisation of opportunities for individuals to engage in ecotourism, another form of tourism which also began on a small scale with compassionate and non-economic priorities. This thesis provides a twin pronged approach to the study of volunteer tourism focusing both on the demand and the supply of volunteer tourism. The demand is investigated through an observation of a group of volunteer tourists in Mexico over a three week period and a new conceptualization of participation in volunteer tourism as a balancing act between commitment and hedonistic pursuits is developed. This thesis also reviews the growth in number of websites devoted to the various forms of volunteer tourism that now exist, and discusses the changes that have taken place in the content and focus of these websites and the organisations they represent over the last two decades. In relation to this analysis, it also examines the location of destinations which are being made available to volunteer tourists and providing the opportunity to engage in this activity. As a part of this analysis, the thesis examines the changes in the distribution of these locations and the relationship between location and the relative need of the respective destinations for assistance. The current distribution pattern of volunteer tourist opportunities now bears little similarity to the acute need for assistance that one might expect if the real motivation for providing this assistance was altruistic rather than commercial. In proposing a new approach of viewing volunteer tourism participation as a balancing act, but also by showing that the organizations involved vary in terms of their commitment and expectations, this study presents clarification on the role, expectations and motivations of the main players in volunteer tourism.