GeoVisions Blog

Voluntourism Certification: The Financial Risk Makes It A Bad Idea

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Tue, Aug 16, 2011

holding the world in our handThere is an interesting debate going on over at Voluntourism Gal's Blog.  It concerns Tourism Concern's launch to "certify" travel organizations involved in voluntourism.

In short, this is very ill-timed, but perhaps very well-meaning.  It is, ultimately, "much ado about nothing" and 5 years from now will not even rank as a distant memory.  What they will do does little to move the voluntourism needle forward, which is truly needed when thinking about communities, sustainable projects, locals and volunteers.  I've been doing this for 36 years, and I've seen these debates come and go over the years, and I've seen them go as often as they come.  What this will do is provide some guidance in the short run, it will take the minds off operators who refuse to get involved and how they will market against the effort, and as voluntourism changes again (it has gone through massive metamorphosis in even the last 3 years) the guidance will be so out of date to render it all meaningless.

I am uncertain as to why people think "regulation" and "audits" are the only way to clean up a global mess.  And that is exactly what we have with voluntourism right now.  I guess, here in America (and certainly the UK) where colonialism is a part of our DNA, we want to make sure the rest of the world follows our direction and divine guidance and that we know best.

IVPA (International Volunteer Programs Association) which is essentially a closed membership protective association at least has a very stringent set of Best Practices and to be a member, one must adhere to those Best Practices and Standards.   The Building Bridges Coalition (BBC) has spent 3 years developing a set of Best Practices and Standards for this industry.  WYSE Work Abroad has a global set of Best Practices and Standards for their membership.

In other words, almost everywhere you look there are Best Practices and agreed upon industry standards.  And now we're going to be faced with Tourism Concern.  And what will be different?  Tourism Concern will still set up the guidelines, Tourism Concern will collect fees, but will they also accept the risk involved in verification or certification?

Best Practices and Standards are a dime a dozen in volunteer abroad.  You can find them anywhere you look.  But no one has accepted the risk of verification and certification.  If Tourism Concern actually takes the next step and verifies…they assume a global financial risk no one else has ever dared.  That means, if I send my daughter on a program that has been verified by Tourism Concern, and it fails to deliver as the verification process suggests, I can sue them.  Because that's what we do here in America.

jar for donationsWhat Tourism Concern wants to do is what IVPA, BBC, WYSE Work Abroad and many others have done already.  It's just more noise.  But if they back their guidelines and standards with real verification and stand behind it, now they have my attention.  Because they will have to pony up the incredible financial system to protect themselves and others when things go wrong.  I wrote WHEN, not IF.  And that's why you do not see verifiable standards out there today.  So I am interested in seeing if Tourism Concern will put their money where their mouth is.  All it will take is one American voluntourist who goes on a Tourism Concern verified program, and report that the standards are not being met and then sue to get their fees back.  I live and work here.  Yes, that will happen.  I will bet my lungs on that.

So verify up, Tourism Concern.  I'm old, and I'm set in my ways.  But there is a first time for everything, and this I want to see.

Go on over to Alexia's Blog and weigh in if you have an opinion.  Or comment here.  I'd love to know what you think about verification of standards, rather than having a dozen best practice booklets out there that everyone says they follow.  But keep in mind that verification...true verification and certification comes with great financial risk.  Otherwise, it's just another set of standards everyone can promise to attain.

Tags: Volunteer/Work Abroad Industry Updates