I’ve been speaking with a lot of people in the voluntour industry lately and they all agree: voluntourism is an expanding industry. It’s an exponential equation: after people participate, they share their experiences with friends and family. Volunteering is infectious. We are inspired by the good deeds of others. I believe, deep inside, we all want to improve the world around us, even if we don’t know it or understand how. Seeing the effects of volunteering on the people we care about is transformative. It demonstrates the power and importance of something that might at first glance seem onerous or unappealing (like Paul Rudd in My Idiot Brother). I’ve been watching the industry grow. Every week it seems like there are more organizations popping up, and more volunteers are asking how to get involved. It’s very exciting to see the numbers reflecting my hunch… that more and more traditional tourism companies are incorporating volunteering into their programs.
The world needs more heroes. Heroes are people who step up, who face challenges selflessly and with resolve. Heroes help others when they don’t have to. There are so many people with privilege in this world—people who have everything they need but don’t look beyond their neatly kept front yards. I don’t blame these people, in fact, often I am one of them. It’s easy to live, to move through each day focused on the little things. We are all concerned with our own well-being: our relationships, jobs, and dreams. Sometimes we need reminding that we live in a global context, that our privilege stands on the shoulders of other people’s need. We don’t all have to be Angelina Jolie, but we do have to do more. Inequality is an innate part of life but that doesn’t mean we should accept it. Fighting inequality is everyone’s responsibility and it starts with a simple choice: deciding to volunteer.
WildChina is a sustainable travel company that brings travelers and volunteers to a wide variety of locations across the country. They are an ecologically sensitive operation, focused on sharing China’s unique culture and heritage, but they are also a model for-profit organization with a broad spectrum of opportunities for all sorts of travelers. They offer a unique combination: 100% customization, deep-seated networks of opportunities and programs, and commitment to education. WildChina is passionate about China and that passion is infused in all of their trips. Their overarching mission—to teach travelers and volunteers about the beauty, culture, and history of China—is served by their focus on individualized itineraries. Each traveler—vacationer, volunteer, or student—has a unique WildChina experience.
I often write about how social media can help your voluntour organization attract new volunteers, but unfortunately the effect is relatively unquantifiable. It is difficult to discern what factors are inspiring volunteers to travel. Is it the company’s website, their twitter feed, word of mouth, or Facebook? Organizations struggle to keep up with all of the latest tools, convinced that they’re working… somehow. But, according to some, it’s not impossible to quantify the effect of social media on travel booking, it just requires a bit of a shift in the way we think about our measurements. It’s more about measuring activity and interest than it is about identifying a direct link between fans and customers. So, it would rather obviously follow that the more you can inspire engagement, the better. There are also some exciting new tools available for measuring engagement—from KLM’s Meet & Seat application to Trippy which allows users to solicit advice from friends about their travel plans.
In a past life, I was the Marketing Director for a web hosting company. I had an ad-hock background in online marketing from working on my own artistic projects, but I certainly wasn’t up-to-date on the latest tools and tricks. Of course, with the lightning fast pace of technology, being up-do-date is a constant challenge, but I was rather dismally behind the curve. Fortunately, my boss was happy to give me the time I needed to learn so I started reading everything I could find on Internet marketing best practices—from SEO and meta tags to social media and newsletters. By the end of my two years with the company, I was something of an expert on marketing strategy. I learned that all the frenetic updating and linking in the world can’t match a good person-to-person campaign. I think the online marketing experts would agree.