With borders closed and airways grounded for nearly six months, COVID-19 successfully shut down the worldwide tourism trade at a scale by no means witnessed earlier than.
Apart from leisure journey, restriction of motion threatened to destroy volunteer tourism companies and NGOs (non-governmental organisations), devastating the initiatives that rely on them for assist. The pandemic has particularly hit exhausting the recruitment of volunteer vacationers, with some volunteer-sending organisations already pressured to take measures to outlive.
Our work explores many facets of volunteer tourism. Given the influence of COVID-19 on tourism normally, we wished to know how the pandemic has notably affected this sector. For our research we interviewed Peter Slowe, founder and director of Tasks Overseas – a UK outfit that sends paying volunteers to work on initiatives in growing nations – to gauge how such organisations are coping with, and recovering from, the results of the pandemic.
In February and March, Tasks Overseas reported that volunteers had been down by 78% after which in April by 98%, which led to “unavoidable cuts” in its world workforce. Slowe says that some undertaking varieties are faring higher than others. Faculties and day-care centres will usually survive, however nonetheless endure from the dearth of volunteers and the funding that comes with them. However, some conservation initiatives which are usually supported by volunteers might not.
A ripple impact is happening all through the sector, with those that not directly depend on the spend of undertaking volunteers turning to extra conventional methods of securing their earnings. There may be proof that poaching and logging are on the rise once more.
Slowe can be frightened about the way forward for human-rights initiatives which merely can’t proceed with out assist:
We don’t have the volunteers, and there’s nothing we are able to do if Tasks Overseas itself, with its mission to assist the deprived within the poorest nations, is to not survive … With out it there could be no rebuilding.
With initiatives successfully halted, at the same time as lockdown eases, priorities on the bottom might change, jeopardising the foundations and philosophies of initiatives constructed up over a few years. All the things these organisations and native NGOs have labored so exhausting to construct is threatened, however there may be little or no they will do to cease it.
Darkish clouds and silver linings
On this tough terrain, many individuals are taking a wait-and-see method. Though journey restrictions are regularly being lifted, it’s unclear how rapidly – or fearfully – younger volunteers will react to any opening up.
Regardless of the darkish clouds, Slowe believes that there’s a silver lining. He accepts that the volunteer tourism trade has confronted a litany of criticism, together with doing extra hurt than good, being self-congratulatory and disingenuous, boosting CVs relatively than assuaging poverty and struggling, undermining native labour economies, and permitting foreigners to do jobs they might not be certified to do again house.
So maybe this disaster might have a Darwinian impact, and solely the higher organisations will survive. Slowe means that as a well-run for-profit organisation, Tasks Overseas has been higher outfitted “with monetary reserves” to deal with the pandemic than others.
Tasks Overseas, Creator supplied
Maybe COVID-19 presents the survivors of the sector with a possibility to rebuild – armed with hindsight – a volunteer tourism 2.0. Sure, it has introduced the entire vacationer trade to its knees, however the want for organisations to make use of volunteers to satisfy actual wants will persist.
There will likely be a brand new setting by which rich nations which have over-borrowed will lower worldwide help and charity budgets will turn into smaller. So volunteer tourism should get extra severe with extra significant initiatives, better-prepared volunteers and interns to fill a few of the hole left by governments and charities.
Learn extra: Volunteer tourism: what’s incorrect with it and the way it may be modified
Given the controversial nature and commercialisation of the volunteer tourism sector, and accusations that some initiatives are superficial and never linked to present wants, there could also be a necessity to cut back the variety of initiatives and streamline operations. And this should be organised by economically viable companies with substantial reserves to assist climate future storms.
This can take time and cautious planning. Slowe believes that the sector will bounce again ultimately:
I’ve little doubt that younger individuals particularly will wish to journey once more and … do one thing helpful. And I believe that our mannequin, which mixes philanthropy and sound enterprise, will work very effectively, supplied we don’t have too many expectations of rebuilding rapidly. We have to take some classes from this … We’ve let down individuals who depend on us as a result of there was no various. We are going to rebuild by fastidiously setting up new communities of equal respect between our firm, native companions and volunteers.
However will that be sufficient? In some ways, COVID-19 has been a wake-up name for the volunteer tourism sector. Everybody concerned understands that it can’t simply be enterprise as normal, together with Slowe:
We can’t simply repeat … We are going to do issues in another way and higher in a brand new world that wants us extra. Understanding what was proper and what was incorrect and constructing for a future the place volunteer tourism is extra related than ever is the best way the sector has to go whether it is to serve all of its stakeholders effectively.
It’s clear that COVID-19 is forcing organisations to look at previous observe, their function and their influence. With stable reflection, there may be potential for the trade to reshape, redesign and reconfigure their operations consistent with the rules of sustainability. If that results in accepting the necessity to change, this may very well be step one to restoration.