Volunteerism not lost on tourism industry

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 15, 2011

Last weekend downtown Ironton buzzed with activity as the community young and old pitched in and helped make Ironton a better place to live.

The clean up our town endeavor was a smashing success and the Ironton in Bloom folks performed their annual spring magic of providing new colors to the city. Ironton’s planters, streets and light posts are now adorned with fresh new flowers and greenery.

These volunteer actions along with many others during the year help to make Ironton the best location in the nation.

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This desire to volunteer has not been lost on the travel industry. Actually it has created a new term “VolunTourism” and created niche businesses that provide voluntours.

These are companies that focus on volunteer travel and offer worldwide opportunities.

VolunTourism is one of the fastest growing forms of travel in the world. As the word implies, voluntourism combines vacation travel with volunteering at the destination visited. Participating in voluntourism is a way to establish long-lasting connections, discover more about cultures around the world, and about you.

Many of you have already unknowingly participated in volunteer based travel.

Have you gone on a church mission trip to help build a library, school or church in Mexico? Or have you traveled with your local civic club to work on a project with a sister city club in a foreign destination?

Better yet been with Bob Leith, (you know, the history guy), and me, (the travel guy), on one of our educational journeys?

On many of these trips college students and community members have offered their services at hallowed historic sites. They (you) have cleared brush at the battle of Franklin Ky., dug ditches at Fort Donnellson, planted trees in the West Woods of Antietam, rebuilt fences at Bull Run/Manassas, painted battlefield era buildings at Gettysburg and helped Ranger Robin repair her trails at Petersburg.

There is an interesting anecdotal story about our first university volunteer project that I’d like to share. It took me probably a half dozen phone calls to Gettysburg National Military Park along with plenty of explanations before I finally connected with the ranger in charge of volunteer service.

I could hear the disbelief in her voice as I repeated our numbers-100 plus college students and community folks would arrive ready to be put to work. She had to be thinking “no way would that many college kids show up that early in the morning to volunteer.”

Just imagine the look on her face on a chilly early spring morning when our two tour buses rolled in and over 100 eager souls piled off ready to get to work. Composing herself she picked up her CB mike and called for reinforcements. Her message: “Big group, be quick, bring packs plenty of painting supplies and equipment. Be quick.”

Our group cheerfully painted a fence adjacent to the Pickett’s Charge field and a few out buildings near General Meade’s headquarters’ before proceeding on an educational history filed weekend tour.

The monetary costs for the individual to perform these services at Gettysburg were zero. Their rewards varied person by person but many comments indicated that these actions were life changing and that the overall experience was well received.

Often when I bump into these trip alumni our service work projects are frequently mentioned as their fondest memories of that journey.

You have a world of opportunities available to explore. While you are on your Caribbean cruise you can spend an afternoon harvesting sea turtle eggs on Grand Cayman Island or rebuilding a Jamaican school house.

The list is almost endless! Just get a little creative. Stumped for ideas? Give me a call and I’ll share plenty of destinations and ideas with you.

You don’t even have to leave your community to perform Voluntour service. All you have to do is look around and you’ll discover that there are plenty of sites that would welcome extra hands. While it is not as exciting as outbound or foreign travel you will still feel good after having given back even if it is at the local level.

Regarding expenses I would expect you to pay for your travel arrangements and perhaps a minimal voluntour service fee. It has been my experience that if you’re willing to provide the time and labor the hosting organization will provide the necessary materials.

Unfortunately there are some companies and organizations that are attempting to profit from your labor and they charge in my opinion an excessive amount for their product. One such firm charges $100 per person to perform the same work that we did for free at Gettysburg.

I believe this is a great volunteer/travel experience for a church men’s/women’s group, boy/girl scout troop or a civic/fraternal organization to sponsor.

It will be a chance to bond as a group, increase fellowship among members, raise community awareness, aid in recruiting and just do something for the general good.

If a VolunTourism trip sounds interesting I suggest that you partner with a travel professional and destination representatives to identify service projects then develop your itinerary components.

In my Caribbean example I’d work with the Cayman Islands and/or the Jamaican Tourist Board. You may also have personal or professional island destination contacts that can help you design the on location the service activity.

Again I would be glad to personally meet with anyone who wants to further discuss a VolunTourism project.

Got travel? E-mail Steve Call at the travelprofessor@gmail.com or dial 740.550.9540.