Voluntourism is still a small niche in today’s worldwide travel market but it is poised to grow.
Travellers from the UAE are among those wanting to make a difference and tackle an adventure at the same time according to Gulf4Good, a Dubai based charity that organises adventure challenges to remote places.
Marketing director Tricia Evans said that there was also a growing interest in volunteer tourism among school groups worldwide including in the UAE. The English College in Dubai was the first school to send a group of 22 students and five teachers to base camp Everest on a charity challenge in October last year.
Raising Dh255,000 for an orphanage in Pokhara, Nepal, headteacher Allan Forbes, who also took part said, 'We obviously saw the educational purposes of taking our students to Everest and the value in getting them involved in fundraising, but it's significant that this challenge took place in Nepal. We're aware that poverty is a major issue in today's world climate, so being able to support underprivileged children in a country such as Nepal was high on our agenda when we decided to do the Everest Base Camp Challenge.'
Said Evans, “I believe we will see much more school participation from now. In the UK and in the UAE there is a shift by schools away from the A level qualification to the IB, and an essential part of the IB programme is about involvement in community service and taking action.”
Gulf4Good has undertaken 22 charity challenges in 15 countries since it started in 2001, with more than 470 participants becoming involved.
“To complete a Gulf4Good challenge participants have to get fit, raise money for a chosen charity and complete a physical challenge such as climbing to base camp Everest, trekking in Jordan or kayaking in Borneo. All three aspects can be life changing for participants,” she said.
About 60 per cent of their participants came from Dubai with a “handful” coming from the other emirates, Bahrain and other Gulf countries. The company has just linked up with Plan International, a large UK based charity that supports charity projects all over the world.
Big news for Gulf for Good is that UAE adventurer Adrian Hayes, who has recently returned from the South Pole, will become their new challenge director.
Graham Harper of North by North East Travel Services based in Thailand said, “The latest and best trends for us in voluntourism is high school learning/community service programmes. We have just signed a co-operative agreement with 12 villages in northern Laos to develop such opportunities – and develop community based tourism for poverty alleviation and cultural protection. This will be a multi-year undertaking and has great potential to really make a big difference.
Not only is this good business, it is good for the communities and local environments.”
Harper said that there was interest coming from the Middle East. “The Dubai American Academy is coming to Luang Prabang in March to help build a community water project,” said Harper.
In the USA there are about 3.5 million US adults choosing a vacation with a purpose, and this number is set to grow.
by Cheryl Mandy