If you follow social media you’ve probably seen more than a few blogs and posts that claim voluntourism is nothing but a savvy marketing ploy to boost sagging industry sales and that it actually hurts the locals more than it helps. I’ve read articles that focus on valid concerns like environmental impact, limited or zero trickle-down economic significance and shady corporate ethics and practices. All topics that warrant scrutiny and corrective measures where needed. Agreed! Constructive criticism is a valuable resource.
Unfortunately, there have also been a few nasty attacks on the motives of voluntourists. Negative tweets, posts, memes and parody videos that shame and label people who book these trips as having a “white savior complex” and calling them “privileged ego trippers looking for shallow feel good moments”.
Isn't it ironic that on one hand, we’re inundated (especially on social media) with daily messages to practice kindness and that serving others is the key to enlightenment, happiness and good karma. Feels right! We're all one! It’s humane! How can I help? And then (using voluntourism as an example) I’ve read opposition comments as cutting as “If you really want to help, stay home and send cash”.
I can understand some of the underlying concerns a few of the opponents have but not the abrasive negativity toward people who’s hearts are in what should only be considered “the right place”.
Working in the travel industry for the past 10 years I’ve had the privilege of welcoming hundreds of visitors to the Dominican Republic and its given me a bit of insight into tourism on the north coast. Considering world economies, it’s pretty safe to say many vacationers arriving here are not in a financial position to globe trot on a benevolent whim. More often than not they are hard working folks that save up to go somewhere they’ve never been before and if they choose to combine that with a humanitarian cause, I think it’s marvelous and the kind of thinking the world needs more of.
So, even if you're a staunch believer that voluntourism is nothing but a “corporate sales plan” let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Let’s be supportive and take positive steps toward fixing the peccadillos in an otherwise good idea!
People are not going to stop traveling and if there is an opportunity to combine our natural wanderlust with respectful, compassionate kindness and caring for our fellow man and the environment, it seems like a win win situation to me.