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Post Hurricane Voluntourism Engagement in the Caribbean

Written by Roslyn Parker, Affinity Travel Group

While the world watched the events of the recent hurricane season unfold on television and social media, there was a natural inclination to want to help.  This is an innate human response to circumstances that are often beyond our control.  People want to do something, whether it fits well with the reality of the context or not.

For many who witnessed the tragic hurricanes from afar, the question still remains.  How can I help?  What can I do?  While there are various ways that people can make financial contributions to the cause, there are those “participatory philanthropists” who want to contribute their financial resources, as well as their time and talent to do more.

This is what is great about Voluntourism.  It fits into the category of doing more.  According to Voluntourism.org, Voluntourism is defined as the blending of a service or volunteer project with the best traditional elements of tourism.  When properly executed during the recovery stage, Voluntourism can play a critical role in helping to rebuild the Caribbean.  As demonstrated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the socio-economic contributions made by tourists who volunteer, can augment and in some cases surpass public and government assistance.  In the first 2 years following Hurricane Katrina, historical data compiled from the Corporation for National and Community Service showed that there were well over 1.1 million volunteers who visited New Orleans.  In fact, some might say that Hurricane Katrina contributed to the rise of Voluntourism in New Orleans as we know it today.
Another great aspect of Voluntourism is that it brings volunteers who contribute to the local economy by staying in hotels, eating out, shopping, etc.  Often times they stay in the same type of accommodations they would stay in as if they were on vacation.  Voluntourism or Volunteer Vacations are part of the emerging trend of experiential travelers, who want to engage in the life, history, culture and people of a destination.  Voluntourism allows for that type of engagement.

As we approach the holiday season, the desire to give will be even stronger.  Now is a good time to reconnect with your audience by sharing donation and giving campaigns updates on how those contributions are being used to make a difference.  Please consider the following next steps when implementing a Voluntourism initiative:

  1. First things first – Assess your Visitor Value Chain

This would include a full needs analysis of the region, its, residents and potential visitors. Assessment should include but are not be limited to the following:

  • Anticipated Visitor Audiences
  • The Tourism product itself
  • Direct/Indirect Vendors
  • Non Profit Partners
  • Public Sector
  • Faith Based Community
  1. Develop a visitor task force

The key is to form a team of internal/external stakeholders and subject matter experts with the intent of generating an integral, multi-capital framework for collaborative action, communication, perspective sharing, learning, ongoing evaluation and modification.

  1. Create and implement a visitor value chain communications plan

What is the message to the rest of the world, what is the Ask/Request?  What communication channels will be delivered and who will it be delivered to?  How can non-residents/voluntourists be asked to participate?

  1. Identify visitor prototypes as it relates to specific visitor engagement
  • Leisure Travelers
  • Business Travelers
  • Groups
  • MICE
  • Meetings/Conventions/Expos

Even if you are months or even a year away from implementing a Voluntourism strategy, now is the time to start planning.  Remember Voluntourism is a long term strategy and not a quick fix.  Unleashing and harnessing the power of Voluntourism can be a major contributor to the socio-economic well-being of the Caribbean for now and many years to come.

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