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According to Daniela Harrison, a travel consultant with Avenues of the World Travel in Flagstaff, Ariz., client interest in voluntourism is growing every year. Though affluent couples were the primary demographic for volunteer travel a decade ago, today more and more families inquire about lending a hand abroad.
“Voluntourism has become more multigenerational — veteran travelers want to share these experiences with their kids and grandkids,” Harrison said. “It’s a learning and bonding experience.”
Following are a few of Harrison’s suggestions for matching clients with the right volunteering opportunity.
1. Help Clients Get Their Feet Wet. Most travelers research a destination before arriving in order to avoid any surprises, and it’s smart to take a similar approach to voluntourism. Harrison often recommends that clients volunteer
locally with their kids before trying it in a foreign place.
“You don’t want to throw young travelers into a situation that will overwhelm them,” Harrison said. “It’s good to test the waters near home to ensure that the kids can process a similar experience abroad.”
Another option is to have clients participate in brief voluntourism opportunities — for example, a two-hour school visit — before setting them up on full- or multi-day programs.
2. Find Programs That Match Kids’ Interests. Besides school visits, working with animal rescues is a popular choice with Harrison’s clients, especially with the younger crowd. For example, kids love The Cat Boat, a floating feline hospital and rescue in Amsterdam where visitors can feed and brush cats, among other duties.
If clients are staying in a destination with older kids for a longer period of time, finding a project that matches a teen’s future school or career objective can make for a more meaningful experience. That might mean a week working with veterinarians in Africa or planting a community garden in Central America.
“Families aren’t looking at it as just volunteering,” Harrison said. “It’s experiential, as the children get to interact with a different culture or practice a special set of skills.”
3. Look Locally for Prospective Clients.Harrison recommends that agents expand their voluntourism client base by volunteering themselves and reaching out to people who are already active in the community, including members of non-profits or service organizations such as Lions Clubs.
“Visiting a local nonprofit often gets a lot of interest,” said Harrison, who recently organized an international trip with an animal rescue group from her area. “Also, nonprofits talk to each other, so word of your services spreads quickly.”
We asked our travel agent readers what region they most recommend to clients interested in voluntourism. Here’s how they responded.
Central and South America: 54%Asia: 31%Africa: 15%