Challenges and Opportunities Facing Voluntourism

One of the problems facing modern-day voluntourism is the exclusion of the South. This refers to the inauthenticity of the sector’s vision for cross-cultural exchange between volunteers from western states and beneficiaries from lower-income economies such as Nigeria, Libya or Kenya (Wearing & Gard McGehee, 2013). Chaudhuri & Beck (2020) argue that voluntourists are restricted from full immersion with the beneficiaries during the project. Therefore, the cultural exchanges of ideas are rare. Daldeniz & Hampton (2010) contend that it is due to this problem that voluntourism has become an extension of traditional Western tourism rather than an act of social enterprise (SE). Jones (2004) found that 800 voluntourism operators (not for profit and for-profit) were offering gap year placements across 200 countries, with the average cost ranging from $680 to nearly $3000. This price range leads to the exclusion of potential voluntourists from the South and fails their vision for cross-cultural exchange (Jones, 2004).

Banki & Schonell (2018) suggests that colonial legacy is another problem facing voluntourism. Colonial legacy is the socio-cultural phenomenon of tensions emerging between volunteers from developed countries and locals from less developed due to past political affiliations (Banki & Schonell, 2018). White privilege is a challenge for the voluntourism industry, the problem of how to offer help to locals in poor areas without being perceived as entitled and exploitative (Straubhaar, 2015).

Cheer et al. (2019) argue that the solution to moral grandstanding on social media is for firms in the industry to implement an ‘Airplane Mode’ policy whereby voluntourists are banned from posting images of their charity work online. This should help overcome the industry’s stigma regarding exploiting underprivileged individuals for social media popularity (Cheer et al., 2019). Heyman & Brenner (2019) note that another key opportunity for leading voluntourism firms to take advantage of in the long term is to run longer-term projects. Similarly, Shepherd (2017) argues that successfully capitalising on this opportunity could assist voluntourism firms in seeing community-level projects such as infrastructure builds through to the end of completion.

Vrasti (2013) states that one of the problems with the existing literature is that although there is a lot written about the problems of voluntourism, there is little literature on how to overcome those problems. This study hopes to bridge this gap in the literature by critically examining the subject topic from an entrepreneurial perspective. Weber (2012) suggests that a SE approach is the best fit in this context since this type of business is concerned with changing the world for the better. This contrasts with the more traditional economic perspective – limiting business performance measurement to how much equity is generated for shareholders.

Similarly, Zhao & Mao (2021) argue that under the SE approach, voluntourist firms would have the ability to resolve ethical problems whilst ensuring the commercial feasibility of the firm. The underlying reason behind this argument is that SEs seek to reconcile two main elements: furthering social justice causes and generating a sustainable rate of return for shareholders.

Hinna et al (2016) state that it is only in adopting the SE approach that voluntourist firms will have the ability to properly understand the needs of more marginal stakeholder partners. This is because SEs measure ethical business conduct against the needs of a wider range of stakeholder groups than is the case with more traditional enterprises. Such an approach could prove valuable to successfully answering the research question since the needs of stakeholders could account for some of the ethical issues, which need to be addressed by volunteer matching firms like SV.

The Angermund & Plant (2017) model shows that ethical business conduct reflects leadership commitment, governance structures, ethics management, independent assessment and external reporting. These underlying principles are directly affected by culture – both at the organisation and societal level.

To summarise, the gaps in the existing knowledge can be filled by the output of this research study, which will include viewing the subject topic from an entrepreneurship perspective. Also, using case study data to give practical advice and detailing future issues likely to affect the sector’s ethics.

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