Volunteer Tourism & COVID-19: Challenges and Opportunities
Two colleagues, Dr Elisa Burrai and Dr Davide Sterchele, recently convened an international webinar on volunteer tourism.
Held under the auspices of an ATLAS Special Interest Group, it attracted more than 100 delegates from 36 countries. Four presentations, from both academics and practitioners in Australia, Cambodia and the UK, provided varied perspectives on the phenomenon and stimulated valuable discussion about the challenges and opportunities for volunteer tourism during and post-Covid-19 pandemic.
On the one hand, it was noted how the pandemic further exposes the dependency of many development programmes and organisations on volunteer tourists, further questioning their sustainability and underpinning power relations. On the other hand, it was discussed how the current challenges could accelerate the critical rethinking of previous volunteer practices, encouraging creative solutions to both (new) practical and (old) ethical problems.
In particular, emerging initiatives based on E-volunteering were identified as an interesting alternative to in-person volunteering, not only while volunteers’ travel is impaired by the pandemic, but also as a potential resource for the future. Among the advantages, volunteering becomes easier and more manageagle when delivered virtually; it is financially more affordable for volunteers; and it has a much lower impact on climate change compared to traditional volunteer tourism. Among the challenges, the commitment of E-volunteers might be quesitionable, and the lack of technical resources on the ground to engage with e-volunteering could be problematic. Nevertheless, the speakers agreed that the pandemic opens up possibilities to rethink volunteer tourism practices in a way that might become more beneficial for all the stakeholders involved.
Further research avenues were also identified. A recording of the event can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRhU8tbN0rU&t=2s.
Davide joined Leeds Beckett University as a Leverhulme Visiting Fellow in January 2013 from the University of Padua, Italy, where he completed a PhD in sociology with an ethnographic study on football and inter-ethnic relationships in post-war Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Dr Elisa Burrai is a Senior Lecturer in the UG course International Tourism Management and in the PG course Responsible Tourism Management. I joined the School of Events, Tourism and Hospitality Management in 2014.