WTM 2012: Volunteering projects must focus on communities, says expert panel

st focus more on the communities they serve than on the volunteers’ experience if they are to survive, said a panel of experts at World Travel Market.

Paul Miedema, owner of Calabash Tours, told the Responsible Volunteering session chaired by Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer that the industry had to protect its unique selling point – a chance to engage with community projects and people from the developing world – by ensuring those communities benefited from projects just as much as the volunteers themselves.

He said: “I believe that well-structured, community-centred volunteer programmes can make a considerable impact, but they require a lot more insight into the people we are working with and a deep local understanding of the context in which they work.

“Too much of what I see is benefiting only the volunteer. If we continue with this volunteer-centred approach, this industry is not going to be sustainable.”

Fellow panellist Sallie Grayson, co-founder and programme director for responsible volunteering company People & Places, highlighted the importance of matching skilled travellers to the right projects to ensure volunteers bring relevant experience and do not take away jobs from the local area.

The volunteering sector is on the rise worldwide, especially in Australia and the US, despite a drop in demand from the UK market thanks to the impact of tuition fees and the recession on potenti