Spending vacation time in a disaster zone seems like a crazy idea, but so-called volunteer tourism can actually be a big help to communities trying to recover from natural disasters. It can also be a unique and rewarding experience for the volunteers.
Such volunteer tourism should not be confused with “disaster tourism”, the unfortunate practice of rushing to the scene of a calamity to gawk. That is certainly no help to anyone.
When disaster strikes a destination usually frequented by tourists, people naturally tend to stay away, leaving communities to deal with the loss of tourism income on top of the costs of repair and recovery.
A study by UTS, a technology university in Sydney, Australia, looked at the effects of volunteer tourism in the wake of the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal. They found that when it is done in an ethical matter than takes into account local conditions and the affected community, volunteer tourism can aid recovery and resilience.
In the months following the earthquake, most relief organizations asked international volunteers not to come unless they had specific expertise, such as medical skills, building skills, or emergency response experience. Eventually, Nepal relaxed conditions to include volunteers to help rebuild homes and schools, to intern in hospitals, and to support NGOs and to re-establish sustainable agriculture.
According to the Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents, almost one third of the tours booked to Nepal in the two years after the earthquake comprised groups who combined tourism with volunteering or philanthropy.
Volunteer tourism isn’t for everyone and for every situation, but for places that rely on tourism for their economy, building volunteer tourism into the recovery process can be a good strategy.
Photo, posted July 2, 2015, courtesy of the World Humanitarian Summit via Flickr.