This article is a continuation of the discussion in Are the days of Volunteer tourism over?

Voices that are not heard

Arguably the most important actor in the volunteer tourism process, the host communities in the global south, have no say in the configuration of the voluntourist experience. Since the local community knows best about the targets for development work in the local area, their current role in the voluntourism sector, as passive beneficiaries, needs to change. This begins with the understanding that while the host population in the global south may be economically resource-poor, they are not knowledge-poor and should not be treated as such.

The lack of agreement about the role of voluntourism between global actors in the field of development studies underlines the need for identifying areas of discord and building trust between stakeholders. A starting step for this is identifying key development indicators that can be used as a measuring stick with which to measure effectiveness of the research.
Building on the stated research goals of investigating the design of social infrastructures for voluntourism, the research will need to look at scaffolding the process of volunteering: what are the key actions and micro-activities that constitute voluntouring? Can we design a generalizable infrastructure for efficient, sustainable community-centred voluntouring?

Local communities: the unheard voice in the voluntourism debate

A time for re-imagining?

C.M. Palacios suggests that volunteer tourism organisations can be considered to have the potential to act either as catalysts for positive socio-cultural change or facilitators of neo-colonialism and dependency [1]. For example, Meschkank writes about the corrective role that tourism organisations can undertake in the emerging slum-tourism debate [2]. She argues that tourism in developmental contexts can be reimagined from the popular themes of passivity, stagnation and desperation to one of activity, development and hope.

How can host communities have a greater say in the voluntourist experience, and what are the barriers that currently limit their voice?


Technology and Voluntourism

More research needs to be done investigating the role of digital technologies in designing for ethical, sustainable and community-driven voluntourism. In the literature around voluntourism, very little work has been done around the role of technology. Secondly, there has been a lot of talk about how voluntourism fits in with community-based tourism and sustainable tourism, however little research has been done on the design and development of infrastructures for voluntourism in these contexts. Work looking at the design and development of technologies to support this is sadly lacking. Civic-centered approaches e.g. Digital Civics, encourage inclusivity in the design and ideation of services to best serve the community they serve.

Digital Civics

This means putting the community first, seeing them as co-creators and actors to be interacted with, in a relational rather than transactional manner. It opens itself up, quite comfortably with the ethos of community-based tourism (CBT) [3] i.e. a passion for bottom-up approaches to infrastructure design, and supports the notion of involving the community in the creation and execution of tourism services.

In short, there is much work to be done, but all is not lost. By reimaging the voluntourism debate, and involving actors currently left out through novel technology-enabled approaches, one hopes there is still a future for voluntourism.


[1] Palacios, C.M. Volunteer tourism, development and education in a postcolonial world: conceiving global connections beyond aid. Journal of Sustainable Tourism 18, 7 (2010), 861–878.
[2] Meschkank, J. Investigations into slum tourism in Mumbai: Poverty tourism and the tensions between different constructions of reality. GeoJournal 76, 1 (2011), 47–62.
[3] Sebele, L.S. Community-based tourism ventures, benefits and challenges: Khama Rhino Sanctuary Trust, Central District, Botswana. Tourism Management 31, 1 (2010), 136–146.