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The term “voluntourism” — a type of travel that combines vacationing with volunteering and participating in philanthropic activities — has spread to every corner of the globe.
Vacationers looking to do good are naturally attracted to the Caribbean, says Christopher Hill, founder and managing director of Hands Up Holidays, a tour operator that specializes in luxury family trips with a volunteer component.
“The motivations are multitude,” he said. “The Caribbean offers so much in the way of vacation activities, from beach relaxation and watersports to seeing Maya ruins, hiking and cultural interaction. When combined with lots of needs for volunteering, it adds up to the ideal blend.”
Hands Up Holidays offers vacations that include activities such as house building, school renovation, food donation and bike building in the Dominican Republic, as well as assisting in reading programs in St. Lucia and preparing meals and feeding the homeless in Barbados.
According to Victoria McNeill, co-founder of global volunteer-travel organization Working Abroad, the Caribbean has great appeal when it comes to service-oriented travel.
“We have been working with programs across the Caribbean for over 10 years, and we always have a high demand from volunteers,” she said.
Among the group’s offerings are coral reef restoration and sea turtle conservation in Cuba, Grenada, Carriacou and St. Eustatius.
BeachCorps specializes in volunteer vacations, as well. The company has partnered with the Puntacana Group Foundation in the Dominican Republic on an English teaching volunteer assistant program.
A number of Caribbean hotels have also taken the lead on connecting guests with volunteer activities. In Grenada, Mount Cinnamon Resort and Beach Club operates the Pack for a Purpose program, which encourages travelers to bring supplies to donate to South St. George’s Primary School. And several Marriott International properties aim to educate guests about the environment: Both The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman and Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve offer the Ambassador of the Environment program, which was developed by Jean-Michel Cousteau to promote sustainability and responsible travel.
“There has been a lot of focus on the need to protect and conserve the world’s oceans, for good reason, and that’s one of the inspirations behind our collaboration with Jean-Michel Cousteau,” said Marc Langevin, general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. “Also available at each Ritz-Carlton worldwide is the Community Footprints program, where we are proud to offer our guests the opportunity to give back to the local community through experiences benefiting child well-being, environmental responsibility and hunger and poverty relief.”
In Jamaica, guests at Hyatt Ziva/Zilara Rose Hall, for example, can sign up to volunteer and donate much-needed items to the local Granville All-Ages School.
Also in Jamaica, Bluefields Bay Villas donates 2 percent of its villa rental fees to a local school and allows guests to visit the school, to donate items or volunteer to work with the kids.
Meanwhile, in the Bahamas, clients can help protect the environment by going underwater, helping researchers collect data that’s used to protect sharks, thanks to “citizen-science” diving expeditions offered by PADI Travel. And at The Cove, Eleuthra, guests can help reduce the population of invasive and harmful lionfish species by going on “lionfish hunting” trips.