New Adventure Tourism Report Reveals $263B Market, Up 65% Per Annum Since 2009

Yes, voluntourism is part of the adventure travel market, stop thinking we are separate because the lines have blurred. Impressive growth.

Seattle, WA –  Growth in the adventure travel market has accelerated at a 65 percent yearly rate since 2009 according to the newly released Adventure Tourism Market Study – a consumer report by The George Washington University (GW) conducted in partnership with the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA,


The 2013 Adventure Tourism Market Study uses the same methodology and approach as the 2010 study allowing for direct comparison between the studies and growth trend analysis. It included three key outbound regions: Europe, North America and South America. These regions account for nearly 70 percent of overall international departures, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The study estimates the value of the global outbound adventure travel sector to be US$263 billion, excluding airfare, up from US$89 billion first reported in the benchmark consumer study. When this US$263 billion is combined with the estimated $82 billion spent for related gear, apparel and accessories, adventure travelers spent more than $345 billion in 2012 for travel related to adventure.

“Adventure tourism’s steep climb is attributed to growth in the global tourism industry, a significant increase in the percentage of adventure travelers, and an increase in the average amount spent per adventure travel trip,” said ATTA President Mr. Shannon Stowell. “This comes as positive news, of course, and reinforces the ATTA community’s rising commitment to safety, education, training and development of innovative and culturally and environmentally sound travel options. As we watch adventure travel tourism grow it is imperative that we continue to provide travelers with transformative experiences, all while helping to protect and respect the very people and places visited.”

Have a read of the whole article here.

And make sure to check out this great infographic!

Call for Entries: 2013 State of the Volunteer Travel Industry Survey

Alrighty, friends—we’re ready to start the 2013 State of the Volunteer Travel Industry Survey!

You can view the previous one here (opens in a new tab as a PDF), or on our Voluntourism Research page.

With this report, we want to continue our research to see if the field has expanded, shrunk, changed…well, you get the idea. Your participation in this survey will give us an accurate pulse of the industry within the United States, and will help us as we move forward with research, best practices, and more.

All participants’ information will be kept strictly confidential and only the results and a total list of companies that participated, will be produced—for free, and for all to see.

There are two ways to participate: wait until Alexia or I call and harass you, or just send me an email ( with your answers. We’d much prefer an email, as this will help us keep a record of your responses—from you directly—so that nothing gets lost in the mix, and so that we’re both completely on the same page about what you’ve reported.

Also let me know if you’d be willing to send the volunteer survey out among your networks, and I will send you a survey that is branded for your organization.

Criteria to qualify as an operator in this survey:

  • Have a U.S. office
  • Send U.S. volunteers abroad
  • Not faith-based in any way
  • Volunteers must pay for their placement
  • Travelers work for more than four days of straight volunteering (e.g., cannot be an adventure travel placement with a volunteer component)

Questions for operators that meet the above criteria:

  • To which countries do you currently send volunteers?
  • What is the most popular activity for your volunteers? Building; Community Development; Conservation—Environmental, Wildlife, or Heritage; Scientific; Health Care; Skills Based Professional; Teaching; Other (please describe)
  • How many volunteers did you send abroad in 2012?
  • Do you expect to send more or less volunteers abroad in 2013 than you did in 2012?
  • What is your return rate for volunteers?

Optional, if you have time:

  • Do you feel the economy is affecting your business positively, negatively or unaffected? What, if anything, have you done to counteract the effects of the recession?
  • Are there any valuable insights or lessons learned you would like to share with the industry?
  • Which term do you most associate with your organization? Voluntourism, volunteer tourism, volunteer vacation, volunteer travel, volunteer abroad, or other?

To be included in the report, we ask that you get back to us via email by Friday, April 26. (Update: we’ve heard from those of you who’d like to send your answers along still–please send your surveys ASAP to and we’ll include you in the report!)

Thanks very much—we’re looking forward to hearing what you have to say!

Does Your Organization Follow Any Specific Set of Voluntourism Guidelines?

Every few months, a new announcement—or at least discussion—about volunteer travel guidelines flies by my inbox.

Proposals of watchdog groups, new ethical and practical standards, and even research reports find their way onto voluntourism discussion boards like clockwork.

A few we’ve seen in just the past few years:

As many of us know already, there have been rumblings for years about creating a voluntourism umbrella group that would serve to unite providers and neutral parties alike—one that could attempt to pull together the scattered research and varied sets of guidelines set out by the many parties involved or interested in the voluntourism industry. At least from the discussion boards I frequent, I haven’t seen much conversation about this idea actually taking off—but would love to hear feedback from others about whether it’s happening, or whether you think it will or will not happen.

And so with all of that said, my question to you is this: as a volunteer abroad operator, do you adhere to any specific set of guidelines put out by researchers or other providers? From simple guides, to more complex ones, to membership and evaluation groups, have you actively set forth efforts to adhere to any particular set of standards?

And if so, where are you in the process? What have you found to be the most challenging part of following those standards, and what do you do to continually monitor and evaluate them?

Yet ANOTHER Voluntourism Best Practices Group – via Tourism Concern

Yep, I didn’t believe it when I saw it either. Here is ANOTHER best practices group for voluntourism – why are there so many of these groups? Are they just ineffective or not good at communicating? I have a list of about 8 groups that are defining best practices in voluntourism – what differentiates them all?

The vision of the GIVS Volunteering Standards Group

We aim to promote best practice in international volunteering, to maximise the beneficial developmental impacts in the communities where volunteering takes place, minimise the negative impacts, and to ensure volunteers have a worthwhile experience.

The aims of the GIVS Volunteering Standards Group

  • We aim to achieve our vision through continual improvement in member organisations’ business practice, including using GIVS principles as guidance.
  • We aim to develop and improve the GIVS standard and to establish practical ways of measuring compliance with its principles.
  • We will collaborate with members to collect and publicise personal stories, which demonstrate the benefits to communities of compliance with GIVS principles.
  • We seek to be inclusive in order to maximise the influence on the volunteering sector, but to be clear about members’ responsibilities and to exclude from membership organisations that fail to comply with agreed guidelines.
  • We will seek to identify measurable improvements as a result of the changes implemented by member organisations, particularly in impacts within the communities in which they operate.
  • Members will not behave in such a way as to compromise the reputation of Tourism Concern, or have any negative impact on Tourism Concern’s core activities.

One Company Sets Standard for Volunteering in Haiti

Thought I’d share parts of a paper written by by Andrea Atkinson, Urgent Service Director at Elevate Destinations. Their trip to Haiti won a Nat Geo Tour of a Lifetime Award in 2011 so below is a little about how they did it.

Is it time for everyone to open Haiti up as a destination? Probably not. But are there ways to do it effectively? Yes, see below as an example.

Effective Volunteer Travel Creating Relationships for Meaningful Service in Haiti & The Gulf

Volunteering and service abroad have become very popular for individuals and groups. Developing a volunteer program that both benefits a community as well as positively impacts volunteers is not as easy as just sending a group of people into a “community in need”. In order for one to two week stints of work to be effective and create meaningful change, it is important for travel providers to know how to create experiences that actually give back as well as provide a platform for travelers to serve in solidarity.

Effective Volunteer Program Components

Address sustainability: Understand the environmental, economic, and social benefit for communities. Sustainable development is a norm of the development world. When we bring volunteers into the service world – we need to prepare them for this direct contact. It is important to ensure that the work being done provides a well-rounded and aligned support of sustainable development goals.

Assess long-term impact and ensure that the programs supported have plans for positive impact in the long-run. There are so many programs that have been started and then abandoned by well-meaning volunteers and organizations. Find an organization with a long-standing commitment to the country and cause and find out what their long-range plan is.

Work with well-established organizations: Work with well-established non-profit organizations that have track records of success, transparency and long-term commitment to the community.

Help raise funds: Provide fundraising support to non-profit partners. Each of our travelers is tasked with raising $500. Some have raised over $4000. This has multiplied their effect in the program. Our initiative has raised over $30,000 for causes in Haiti and has engaged hundreds of small donors that now have invested in Haiti.

Employ and engage locals: Employ local labor, making certain that local jobs are not displaced. Volunteering to get something done that could be done by a local employed to do a job is not effective. Neither is bringing in an expert to get a job done and then not providing transfer of knowledge (ie not teaching a or many locals some of the skills to provide this service in the future as well as not learning from locals).

Work in solidarity not superiority: Working side-by-side with locals, learning from them and supporting them while maintaining respect for their culture and knowledge. Developing cross-cultural relationships is one of the most effective things that can come of a volunteer program. It is important to create introductions and work with locals to develop real relationships and create solidarity.

Haiti Case Study:
A year and a half after the January 12 Haiti Earthquake, Haitians are still picking up the pieces, making a new life out of less than the little most people once had. The emergency stage is over, and the long-term rebuilding has begun. Ensuring Haitians have the resources for education is one of the critical elements of long-term recovery. Community engagement in Haiti offers the opportunity to participate in rebuilding a nation, one school and orphanage at a time.

Programs we have developed in Haiti support the rebuilding of orphanages and schools as well as support youth empowerment and the environment.

Elevate the Gulf Case Study:
On April 20th, 2010 over 185 million gallons of crude oil began a three-month gush into the waters off the Gulf Coast of the United States. So began a national tragedy that not only affected marine and coastal flora and fauna, but an entire fishing economy, culture and ecosystem. The sheen on the water has dissipated, as has the media attention, but the long-term repercussions have only begun.

Programs we have developed in the Gulf are in partnership with The Ocean Foundation, to support an area of our country that has suffered economically, culturally and ecologically. Volunteers have worked on replacement or restoration of the oyster reef, seagrass bed and coastal marsh habitats has long-term benefits in helping to improve on-going problems in Mobile Bay.

Is There a Need for a New Voluntourism Association?

I know, I know, don’t roll your eyes… This conversation has been had by many of you, many a time at many a conference. However, there is a real push now by a couple key players to start a new ‘Global Voice’ association that would unite folks like the ATTA, Year Out Group, BBC, APTA, WYSTC under one umbrella and address voluntourism issues on a global scale. All of the current organizations focus mainly on their specific niche or their geographical market – is there a need for an association that has a broader reach?

An association that wouldn’t just be a place you pay dues to every year but something that focuses on two aspects: 1. how to help you grow your business, 2. how to grow the industry as a whole.

There would be webinars on the latest marketing techniques/legal issues/country problems, opportunities to post job openings, regional conferences for in person get togethers, a leading media spokesperson to promote the industry, forums where people from all over the world can discuss issues, etc.

People have been talking about this forever and they’ve been rallying around me to start it as I’m ‘neutral’ and not associated with a big volunteer company. My question is… would this be useful or just yet another place to send dues in every month?

Feedback please!!!



Is Voluntourism Dead?

Something Scott Gilmore recently wrote seems to be ringing true with a lot of operators I have talked to recently; “You get what you pay for. Volunteer staff are never as effective as paid employees.  Yes, please, regale me with tales of the group down at the local church who get together every other Sunday to sew dresses for poor African girls. But let me ask you this: If you lived in earthquake country, would you rather your kids went to class in a school built by volunteers, or one built by certified, paid professionals?”

Companies that send volunteers abroad have told me that their numbers are down YOY, some are even thinking of shutting doors altogether – where do you stand?

Let’s first look at what has contributed to this possible decline:

  • Market saturation
  • Price competition
  • Bad projects were created resulting in negative media about voluntourism, there are no more fluffy stories out there
  • Disintermediation (it’s happening with adventure travel as well) – volunteers are still going abroad in droves they are just booking directly with the project and not using an intermediary.

My take? I think that the number of people going abroad to volunteer is always on the rise, but I think the number that are going direct versus going through a company has dramatically increased. You have an ethically minded traveler to begin with, and if they can leave all of their money in Nepal versus 50% of it in a marketing office in New York, I think travelers are leaning towards that option. We have seen this trend in adventure travel for the last few years and now I think it is starting to happen to voluntourism.


Travelocity’s Travel for Good Grant Continues

Travelocity’s Travel for Good program is back! I asked Alison Presley, manager of Travel for Good, how Travelocity chose their partners and programs to feature for the grants, see below for answers. Hey Steve, Kimberly and James – wanna comment on what it’s like being a Travelocity partner?

From Alison Presley – “The program was founded back in 2006 and we still have our original three partners: Globe Aware, Cross-Cultural Solutions, and Earthwatch Institute. We added American Hiking Society a bit later to be able to offer a wider selection of domestic voluntourism trips.

We selected our partners for being leaders in the emerging field of voluntourism, for their wide selection of programs, and for their commitment to being a strong partner for our program. Working together, we’ve been able to spread the word about how voluntourism can change the world.

We reached out to each of our voluntourism partners and asked them to select two trips they’d like to support this year for the “signature trips.” They selected the trips based on their goals for 2011, local needs, and a variety of other factors.”

Travelocity ( believes travel has the power to change the world through experiences like volunteer vacations. That’s why, since 2006, the company’s Travel for Good® program has been awarding eight $5,000 volunteer vacation grants every year. These grants sponsored deserving Americans on trips to new corners of the world to give back with their own two hands. And today Travelocity announced the launch of a new voluntourism grants site, marking a new era for the program. This site allows volunteers to submit video applications for the voluntourism grant.

Additionally, provides a free blogging platform for all volunteers, including stories from past Travelocity grant winners. Travelers don’t need to win a grant or even volunteer abroad to make use of this new tool. From a local book drive to a three-month voluntourism trip, the site gives all volunteers across the globe the opportunity to share their experiences and get more people involved with the causes they care about.

Where in Nepal is John Doe?

Where in Nepal is John Doe?

By Will Harper, Director – Projects Abroad USA

Kathmandu? Annapurna? Chitwan? But I am getting ahead of myself …..

The concept of self funded volunteer work, i.e. paying to volunteer, was much more novel when
I was a volunteer in 2003 and when I first started working in the international volunteer field five
years ago. With more people familiar with the concept and the numbers of Americans traveling
abroad to volunteer increasing every year, the debate has now shifted to understanding the cost
difference and value of different programs.

Mimicking this volunteer increase is the significant growth of the international volunteer field
over the last couple of years with organizations of all stripes. This is a good thing. It has pushed
established programs to improve their projects and it has increased the number of Americans
traveling to developing countries to volunteer. I am a firm believer that the more people that
live and work in local communities overseas on sustainable projects the better. But a trend I
have noticed is that, all too often, prospective volunteers think that they are comparing apples
to apples. Many people think subconsciously that different organizations offer the same level
of support, staff back up and focus on developing sustainable projects, and increasingly choose
their organization on price alone.

What triggered this observation was a call several weeks ago from a very worried Mom in
Minnesota. Her son, let’s call him “John”, had left for Nepal a month ago and she had not any
word from him since. Unfortunately John hadn’t told his Mom with whom he was volunteering
or where he would be staying. She on the other hand was not very internet savvy or adept at
email. It was a perfect storm of non-communication! She gave the Projects Abroad office in
New York a call after she found our brochure in John’s room. After she explained the situation
I looked at our internal database system and saw that her son was not volunteering with us as he
never applied. I explained that if he was a volunteer with us we would have his application on
file, would know when he arrived, have periodic updates on him from our staff in Kathmandu
and we would be able to pass on a message. But it appeared that he was working with another
organization. My heart went out to this Mom, especially as someone who similarly left my own
mother out of the loop for a couple of weeks when I was volunteering in Romania. Through
the amazing power of the internet I found out that her son was indeed in Nepal with another
organization that didn’t have a US office or any easy way to get in touch with them other
than through the internet. I called her back and explained what I found and how to make an
international call, which she was very thankful for.

Long story short, there were a lot of things John could have done to assuage his poor Mom. But
it is important to consider that this could have been averted if he went with a comprehensive
organization like those associated with the IVPA or BBC with a proper support system (both project and

volunteer) in place. Local staff would be checking up on him, his Mom could call
a US office to relay her concerns and there would be an emergency number that John and his
Mom could call if there was ever a need. As the field of international volunteering grows, it will
be more and more important that prospective volunteers understand the value and structure of
different organizations.

What are your thoughts?

Voluntourism on the Amazing Race

Did everyone catch the voluntourism stint in Ghana on the latest Amazing Race? They had the volunteers do the classic ‘paint the school’ project – what are your thoughts on painting projects? Feel good projects for the volunteer because they see the results of their work? Or generally beneficial to the community because they wouldn’t have the time or resources to paint it themselves, uplifts spirits, etc?