Category Archives: voluntourism

Volunteer Tourists

Underwater Leaves(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

Lately, while searching out stories of environmental volunteers, I’ve noticed the term voluntourism pop up again and again. I realize that this idea has been around a long time. For many years, people have traveled to an area as a tourist and spent their time there working as a volunteer, often for an environmental cause. It seems that lately, the idea is picking up steam and gaining popularity. Here’s one story out of North Carolina, where voluntourists are helping sea turtles.

While these traveling environmental volunteers may be helping out and making a real difference, many are skeptical. This article from NPR discusses the trend and asks “Who is it helping most?” And this article from ABC News in Australia asks more questions about the potential benefits, what they are and who gets them, of voluntourism. And finally, this post on Huffington Post says right in the title, “helping abroad isn’t always helping.”

Interestingly, it’s easier to find stories debating and vilifying voluntourism than find stories about volunteer tourists really helping the environment. I can’t help but think, though, that these traveling environmental volunteers are doing some real good in some places. The question is whether or not that good is outweighed by a number of negative impacts caused by their travel to and presence in a foreign place.