Some aid groups and academics are calling for tighter controls on the volunteer tourism industry as opportunities to travel with a purpose proliferate, raising questions about the good done by inexperienced Westerners on short-term visits to developing countries, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reports.
Voluntourism has become a booming sector of the travel industry, as demonstrated this month by market-leading cruise operator Carnival's announcement of a new line dedicated to "social impact" holidays. Nancy Gard McGehee, an expert on sustainable tourism at Virginia Tech, estimated that as many as 10 million volunteers a year are spending up to $2 billion on cause-related trips.
Critics say there is no mechanism to hold the rising number of companies catering to such tourists to account or to keep unscrupulous operators out of the field. "There are small local outfits as well as big corporations who see volunteering as a way of driving profits rather than an integral part of a long-term strategy for communities with real needs," said Simon Hare, development director of British volunteer group Globalteer.