Managing tourism sustainably is about keeping your economy robust without strangling the goose that laid the golden egg, which – whether you are a seaside dynamo or a small town with a unique product – means preserving your environment and community character.
Strategies large and small make up a sustainable tourism approach. A voluntourism strategy connects your destination to the ‘temporary localhood’ trend – the desire among travelers to experience their destination as a local person does while offsetting the environmental impact of their visit.
What is voluntourism? It is the practice of creating opportunities for travelers to do volunteer work side by side with locals – hands-on work that makes a difference and connects people – an excellent temporary localhood experience. Typical voluntourism activities include river or beach cleanups, trail maintenance, or home building with Habitat for Humanity. With projects like these already happening in your community, why not invite visitors to participate?
Voluntourism is a win for everyone. For travelers, volunteering forges a meaningful memory and a connection with local people that is otherwise unavailable – and plants a seed for future visits. For residents, it is a chance to meet people from all over the world and share community values while improving the local quality of life. For businesses and non-profits, organizing or sponsoring voluntourism deepens community connections and builds employee teamwork.
In Sedona, AZ, USA, our voluntourism program has four components. First, we created VoluntourismInSedona.com, a site featuring all the events open to visitor volunteers. Then, we partnered with organizers to tag their activities as voluntourism, so visitors know they are welcome to pitch in. All the tagged events appear on the website. Third, we sponsor voluntourism events such as litter cleanups and trail-building days. Finally, we are busily promoting the site to locals and travelers, a first step in bringing them together for the betterment of Sedona, whose beauty inspires many to want to give back.
Already, more than 300 volunteers have removed more than 2,300 pounds of trash from Sedona waterways, and hundreds have improved many of Sedona’s 400+ miles of trails.
Voluntourism is one of the easiest sustainability programs to get off the ground quickly. It has immediate results and produces excellent word of mouth. Voluntourism programs telegraph your values and serve to welcome travelers as participants in living locally – not just as consumers.
Voluntourism is a best-practice for sustainable tourism management and in the end, it builds person-to-person contact and mutual understanding, which is what travel – and living – is all about.
Have you participated in a voluntourism program? Would you do so if you saw an opportunity while traveling? Do you have voluntourism in your community? We would love to share your story.
TEI can also help you jumpstart voluntourism at your destination. Contact us today.