Volunteer Tourism

Think about all of the core tourism experiences in your region. Who manages them? Who runs them? Who makes sure the visitor is having the best experience possible?
In a lot of cases its volunteers, who ironically are not directly in the tourism business. Lets look at organized snowmobiling in the Province of Ontario. This is the largest snowmobile trail system in the world with over 40,000km or trails criss-crossing the province. This network is built almost entirely by volunteers. They plan routes, stake, sign, fundraise, purchase and maintain equipment, groom this massive system both for their own enjoyment but also for the visitor. Snowmobiling is big business and these volunteers are in full control of the delivery of the tourism experience.
Is this right? Is it fair? Ask most volunteers why they do what they do and almost none of them will say, “to contribute to the tourism economy”. They do it out of a labour of love for their sport or activity and in turn what it creates is an authentic tourism product.  But, the issues arise when the destination marketing organizations really start to push these experiences as viable tourism products that generate huge economic activity….on the backs of the volunteers. It suddenly turns from a labour of love into work.
Lets face it, volunteerism is suffering. Lack of engaged youth, aging demographics, and simply too many tasks with too few people is creating massive volunteer burn out.  The destination managers and marketers need to understand their products and what stage of the lifecycle they are at. If they are heavily dependant on volunteers, they need to be sensitive to those organizations and find ways to assist them in ensuring the product stays on stop at the same time appreciating and understanding the volunteers.
Here are 5 ways to engage with your volunteers:
1. Get down on their level – Attend their meetings, and work bees and get engaged.
2. Understand their needs – Do they require more bodies, cash for upgrades, or expertise?
3. Don’t let them get bogged down with rule compliance and regulation – These people all have day jobs and volunteer as an outlet. Help them.
4. Lobby – Use your connections to push their needs through government channels.
5. Offer to help – Allocate budget, staff time or other resources to help them with the tasks that your organization is good at.
Resources: Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs   World Volunteers 

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Filed under Best Practices, Tourism Management

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