Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What you need to know about humanitarian tourism

Kate Simmons — The past couple of years have really given a rise to the trend of humanitarian tourism, or voluntourism as some ecotourismwould like to call it. Humanitarian Tourism can be seen as a holiday with purpose. Not only will the tourist experience a new culture and environment, but they will get the opportunity to lend a helping hand to these struggling communities.

These outreach programs educate individuals on the lifestyle and culture in different countries and ethnicities. What is important is that the right individuals get involved in the process, and not just those wanting to drop in for a few days and take arty photographs of the less privileged. Sacrificing your time as a volunteer will require an attitude of service and hopefully manifest a love for different cultures, religions, and lifestyles.

It is important that these programs do more good than harm; the long term goal is to establish something sustainable and not just a once-off occurrence.

Do your research

When it comes to approaching possible programs and humanitarian tourism possibilities, it is very important to do your research. Ask the traveling agent or organization how much of the money would be going to the specific town or city that you will be working in.

A lot of commercial companies have started to abuse the giving attitude found in young individuals. They promise these volunteers that they will be able to perform miracles in these desperate countries when in fact they are just trying to make profit out of the traveling expenses. These institutions, which are not non-profit then, ask the destination communities to offer free accommodation etc in change for some helping hands. Only a small fraction of the money ends up in the hands that really need it.

If you are interested in getting involved with a non-profit organization in the form of volunteer and humanitarian tourism, don’t be afraid to ask these organizations what exactly the program entails and where the money will be going.

What are the benefits?

If run correctly, these humanitarian programs can really change a community. As an individual, you will be surprised at how far your service can go in helping others.

-          Broaden your horizons by experiencing a different culture

-          Escape your comfort zone

-          Become of service to others

-          Build relationships with the locals

-          Educate yourself in another culture

-          Be open minded to change and growth

If you are taking on a humanitarian expedition as a part of your practical experience in a particular field, working in a foreign country will look wonders on you resume. It will give you that much needed edge in showing that you are willing to commit to your craft 100%.

Lend a helping hand

As a volunteer, you will soon realize that helping others is actually just a way of helping yourself. If you strip away all the luxury and convenience of your everyday life, you will get the chance to really do some introspection. Seeing the sunset from the other side of the world might just give you that perspective you outlook on life that you were craving.

When we are in service of others, we realize that to give is to receive.

Humanitarian Organizations

If you are considering a vacation with a volunteer twist, have a look at these organizations:

Gap Adventures
This program gives you the option to be involved in the one- or two-week tours that have their focus on the development of sustainable economies in local communities. The most important factor is the fact that the tour leaders incorporate the volunteers in the local community by allowing them to spend a night in the local’s homes. Other than most commercial travel agent outreach program, this ‘Peace Corps light’ program makes sure that the money stays in the community and that no-one is taken advantage of.

Micato AmericaShare 

This non-profit organization stems out of the luxury safari brand Micato. The program focuses on recruiting individuals with specialized skills to volunteer in Nairobi, Kenya. Even though this program is more specialized, ‘normal’ travelers also get the chance to volunteer at the local schools and orphanages for one or two days. A while back, Micato organized a group of optometrist as well as volunteers from Indiana to provide over 3, 000 locals with free eye exams.

Elevate Destinations

Elevate’s urgent-response program is also a form of humanitarian tourism that was created after the recent disasters in the Gulf of Mexico and Haiti. The volunteers get first-hand experience in what it is to be a public servant in desperate times like these. The recent trips to Haiti included the reconstruction of orphanages to teaching kids computer skills.

It is important that the locals do the main aspects of a job, in order to secure jobs in the area and that the volunteers only lend a helping hand. The last thing you would want to see is a community fall apart after the volunteers leave.

These are just a few non-profit organizations that you can get involved in if you want to help make a difference in the world. The benefits of humanitarian tourism are endless, and if done through the right organizations, your voluntary actions can really build a future for some of these communities.


About the Author

This is a guest post by Kate Simmons, an occasional guest-blogger and full time social worker. If you'd like to find out more about the profession, visit


  1. Your article is absolutely superb. Very necessary these days for tourists to know how to be one with the environment, learn responsible ways.

  2. Thanks so much, I created a travel right project similar to something of this nature.


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