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Volunteer tourism as development? Assessing the role of non-government organisations through case studies from Asia


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Ingram, JM 2014 , 'Volunteer tourism as development? Assessing the role of non-government organisations through case studies from Asia', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Volunteer tourism is a relatively recent tourism phenomenon that provides
individuals with opportunities to volunteer their labour or services as part of
their holiday. The slogans used to sell volunteer tourism promise an
opportunity for individuals to engage directly with local communities in order
to ‘make a difference’ to people’s lives. There is an implicit message that
volunteer tourism contributes towards development. The marketing slogans,
however, simplify the complex issue of development into something where
people can ‘feel good’ by ‘doing good’.
The portrayal of volunteer tourism in the literature is also overwhelmingly
positive, based largely on anecdotal evidence or the volunteer tourist
perspective. Furthermore, volunteer tourism is predominantly recognised as
an unmediated ‘authentic’ engagement between host and volunteer tourist.
There is limited acknowledgement of the complicated web of stakeholders
involved in the phenomenon, or that volunteer tourism is a mediated process.
This thesis seeks to rectify this anomaly by testing the simplistic portrayal of
volunteer tourism and shifting the focus onto the neglected volunteer tourism
stakeholder, that is, the local non-government organisation (NGO) which acts
as the conduit between host and volunteer tourist. To accomplish this, the
thesis places volunteer tourism within a development framework and
examines: first, the influences that have legitimised volunteer tourism as a
worthy ‘helping’ activity, and, second, the perspective of the local
development NGO, a vital facilitator of the volunteer tourism experience.
Unravelling the historical legacies of colonial practice and the post-World War
II era reveals how the beliefs of today’s volunteer tourists have been shaped
by the past. The impacts of globalisation further influence the actions of, and
the decisions made by, the various volunteer tourism stakeholders. Volunteer
tourism, placed within historical and globalised contexts, reveals a more complex picture than the simplified version sold to potential volunteer
tourists. This thesis contends that a cumulation of influences has popularised
development, and this, in turn, has changed the way development is viewed
today. Development is now secured by volunteer tourism as an unskilled
activity where good intentions, rather than skills and experience, are what
In 2010 I undertook field research in India and Nepal with the aim of giving
agency to the local development NGO and understanding its position in
volunteer tourism. Inquiry utilised a critical theory paradigm through case
studies as the means of unravelling the complexities in volunteer tourism
relationships. Significantly, research findings reveal that tensions exist within
the complex web of relationships. In particular, as conduit between local
communities and volunteer tourists, local NGOs are placed in a challenging
position as they attempt to balance volunteer tourist needs, local community
development needs and organisational needs. As a result, many of the
transformative outcomes promised in the volunteer tourism marketing and
scholarship fall short of expectations.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Ingram, JM
Keywords: volunteer tourism, development, non-government organisations, volunteering, Nepal, India
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