The contribution of volunteers to tourism
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The academic study of the contribution that volunteers make to tourism provision had been largely neglected (Uriely, Reichel & Ron, 2003). Within the field of tourism studies, there is a growing literature on volunteer tourism, where tourists take part in ecological of community aid projects in other countries (Wearing, 2001). This is the tourist as volunteer and follows the leisure studies tradition of examining the experiences of volunteer guests. This volunteering is framed within development and alternative tourism. The term ‘working tourist’ is often used, particular in relation to those undertaking a ‘gap year’; yet not all; working tourists will be volunteers, with many working in paid jobs to supplement, and finance travel. Previous research has considered the volunteers’ perspective of their voluntary working holiday experience, and the host-guest relationship, from the point of view of the working tourist as well as the local community.Uriely, Reichel, and Ron offer a broader conceptualisation of volunteer tourism, going “beyond those who engage in volunteering as tourist, visitors, or guests, and includes members of the local community who volunteer in the tourism industry” (2003: 59). Volunteers can thus be either guest of host. The contribution that volunteer hosts make to other people’s tourism experiences had been largely overlooked. Research has considered the role of volunteers in visitor attractions, particular museums and heritage attractions, visitor information centres, and as worker at tourist events. However, with the exception of Uriely, Reichel, and Ron (2203), these two types of volunteers, and the contribution they make to tourism, have not been systematically brought together.This paper reviews previous research and conceptualises the role of volunteers within tourism, both as guests and hosts, through their contributions of tourism, the destination and the personal contributions and benefits they gain. First, for the hosts – the volunteer as tourism worker – this includes: their economic contribution to the workforce; the promotion of the destination; social aspects; community involvement in tourism; as well as personal benefits such as skills and career development; altruistic and leisure-seeking motives and rewards; and the support of a particular cause. Second, for the guests – the volunteer as tourist – contributions and benefits include: contribution to the development of the destination; economic, environmental, political and political impacts; social development; travel opportunities; skills and personal development; support for a cause; and the opportunity for self-identity and empowerment. The paper concludes by proposing directions for advancing the research agenda on volunteers in tourism. The key contributions this paper makes are to synthesise a disparate body of previous research to enable the field to move forward, as well as redressing the paucity of studies of the role volunteers play in tourism supply.
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