"As the tourism industry emerges from pandemic shutdowns and border closures,
so too is “voluntourism”, the sometimes controversial combination of overseas
volunteer work and more traditional tourist experiences.
Although hard to measure, pre-pandemic estimates suggest voluntourism was worth
US$2 billion annually, with up to ten million volunteers globally. While COVID
shut the practice down for the duration, it remains a multi-billion-dollar
industry, now poised to return and rebuild.
But volunteer tourism has met with considerable criticism. Voluntourists have
been accused of putting vulnerable people at risk (including children),
commodifying volunteer work, perpetuating neo-colonialism and reinforcing a
“white saviour” complex.
Voluntourism is also largely unregulated, raising important ethical questions
about who it really aims to serve – travellers or hosts. These issues are now
being felt in the Pacific, where voluntourism is a relatively new but growing
industry. As Simone Kaho wrote of her experience in Tonga:
In many cases, voluntourism asks the local community to stand back, and
allow themselves to be helped. It turns helping into a business model.
My research in Fiji has also highlighted the problems associated with the
commercialisation and commodification of volunteering. These are real and
important issues that need close examination as tourism in general picks up."
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics