Volunteer tourism has grown to become a substantial niche within the adventure tourism segment and was one of the few niche markets that was broadly unimpeded by the global financial crisis but in some ways was boosted by it. Acorn was commissioned to research and write a specialist niche market report on volunteering in sub-Saharan Africa for market intelligence agency Mintel. The research was to provide a market profile of volunteering tourism, or voluntourism, identify the most common destinations and volunteering experiences, and to summarise a range of tour operator profiles and business models.
Acorn undertook comprehensive research into the volunteer tourism market to understand how the market has evolved from the early days of volunteering during times of war in the 19th century to today where large numbers of volunteers get involved to work on a wide range of projects in developing countries all over the world. An assessment of the global volume and value of the sector was made as well as identifying the major source countries of volunteers to developing countries. Popular destinations were profiled and which activities were most sought after by volunteers, whether skilled or unskilled.
Acorn’s research found that the sector is dominated by young people from gap year and university students, to career breakers and young professionals. Volunteering has long been identified as playing an important role in the personal development of young volunteers and career breakers, boosting their confidence and giving them a more rounded outlook on life. A further group of older volunteers aged 50+, the post-family market, had recently emerged, participants keen to get involved in new activities as they age.
However, ethical concerns about the quality of volunteer programmes were identified as an issue faced by communities establishing projects and volunteers choosing programmes to support. Orphanage tourism was one area singled out and many tour operators were found to have discontinued supporting orphanages, including leading British organisation, VSO.
Nevertheless, volunteer tourism was continuing to grow rapidly, supported by a tour operator market that was rapidly evolving to include more volunteer experiences within their mainstream travel itineraries.