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noun [uncountable]

the practice of taking a holiday which combines leisure and sightseeing with the opportunity to work for a charity or other worthwhile cause


noun [countable]


noun [uncountable]

'It's a great example of a growing trend in travel called "voluntourism", essentially a vacation that combines fun and philanthropy.'

Honolulu Star Bulletin 15th October 2006

'The primary goal for voluntourists was to work with over sixty deaf-mute children at one of the city's orphanages.'

gonomad.com 2006

'If volunteering overseas makes you think of pony-tailed vegans stuck in the jungle for two years with organizations like the Peace Corps and CUSO, think again … Thanks to national media attention, the tourism industry is rushing to fill a demand for a new form of specialty travel: voluntouring. '

SEE Magazine 19th May 2005

If you're thinking of holiday plans for 2007, and you fancy the idea of a holiday not just, 'with a difference', but which, 'makes a difference', then the new trend of voluntourism could be just the thing for you.

appealing to people who want to do something enriching in their spare time, voluntourism is a new wave in the travel industry

Appealing to people who want to do something enriching in their spare time, as well as relax or go sightseeing, voluntourism is a new wave in the travel industry, which combines holidaying and charity work. Instead of lazing by the pool or taking copious photographs of the sights, philanthropic travellers, dubbed voluntourists, travel to far-flung locations to dig fields, build walls and clean out baboons and elephants. Typical voluntourism activities focus on community development (e.g. building projects, planting crops and gardens, setting up irrigation and water treatment facilities), education (e.g. teaching English or general literacy), environmental projects (e.g. wildlife protection programmes, reforestation); and social welfare (e.g. caring for orphans, street children or AIDS sufferers). Voluntourists might also be guided by a specific interest as in, for example, holidays centred around archaeology or restoration projects.

The concept of voluntourism is particularly appealing to those people who'd really like to spend a bit of time doing something worthwhile, but aren't able or willing to give up their current lives and employment in order to spend an extended time away. Some travel companies even offer the concept of a charity short-break, a kind of city-break meets voluntourism. A chimpanzee sanctuary near Barcelona, for example, offers a long-weekend package of two days working with chimps and one day seeing the sights of Barcelona or Girona.

Background – voluntourism

Voluntourism is, of course, a blend of the words volunteer and tourism, and a phenomenon which is thriving in the 21st century travel industry. The sudden surge in interest for this kind of holiday is thought to be partly attributable to the Asian tsunami disaster of December 2004 after which, travel companies switched from promoting working or adventure holidays to offering opportunities for involvement in rebuilding projects within directly-affected areas.

A related concept which has been around slightly longer is ecotourism, coined in the late 1980s to refer to tourism which is 'ecologically-sound', in that it strives to minimize environmental impact on the areas visited. Voluntourism takes the concept of ecotourism one step further, extending the idea of 'doing no harm' into 'attempting to do good'.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 24th November 2006.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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