Is Volunteer Travel Recession-Proof?

Yesterday’s New York Times article confirmed what we have been saying, voluntourism or volunteer travel is resilient during this recession because people will find creative ways to source and pay for their travels if they feel their travels have value and meaning. Certainly, there will be adjustments and compromises as cost becomes a bigger factor in the decision-making process. But as the article noted, teens, in this case, will continue to go on service trips because these experiences are far too important for them to forgo. Schools are requiring community services and parents are looking to keep their kids challenged and engaged. Parents see these trips as an investment in their kid’s education, development, and future. When travel is put into that context, people are more willing to sacrifice to make this kind of travel possible.

28teen650.2 - Is Volunteer Travel Recession-Proof?

What the recession has done is create pause in families who previously would have readily paid for service-trips as they reconsider their options. Still, even as consumers are cutting back on small and big luxuries, some families are scraping together steep fees to send their children on these service/learning programs this summer.

At a time when the overall travel industry is in a slump, operators of camps, and educational and volunteer travel programs say they are surprised at the sustained interest. As for parents, many tend to echo the programs’ marketers and describe them in terms like “investment” and “value.”

Programs with price tags of $1,000 to $2,000 or more a week are proving relatively recession-proof. Service programs like Global Works, with trips ranging from 20 days in Nicaragua for $3,195, to a 27-day French home stay for $6,195, report interest only slightly below last year’s. Global Leadership Adventures, which runs tours to Africa, Asia and Latin America, has enrolled 50 percent more students this year than last, and B’nai B’rith Youth Organization is filling seats on its Israel tours.

The difference in 2009, program operators say, is that parents are deliberating longer and seeking discounts. They are also picking shorter, cheaper versions of programs. To offset the costs, many parents are also asking children to contribute and cutting back their own vacations.

Some companies find their strongest draws are cheaper offerings. Global Leadership offered just one short itinerary in 2008, to Guatemala. But most of its expanded enrollment this year is in programs lasting two weeks or less, costing about $4,000 total, said Andrew Motiwalla, executive director.

As one parent stated, “When you have a 16-year-old and he’s excited about doing something, you encourage it.”

[via New York Times ]
Photo: Global Works

2 Comment

  1. voluntourismgal says:

    I totally agree with this post, voluntourism is recession proof. I would even go so far as to say it booms in a recession.

    According to a survey we just did, 61% of US volunteer operators expect to send more volunteers abroad in 2009 versus 2008.

    To read the full study visit:

  2. gofarther says:

    It’s not recession proof for all. At Farther Foundation,, we provide scholarships for deserving low-income students to participate in educational travel experiences, including service trips.

    Families we serve are hard pressed even in the best of times to make these opportunities possible, and the current economic conditions only make it harder. Organizations like ours have difficulty raising charitable contributions for scholarships, program providers cannot afford to offer as many discounts and families cannot spare the sometimes significant out-of-pocket expenses that accompany a major trip abroad.

    We are assisting 16 well deserving, low-income students to participate in educational travel experiences on 5 different continents this summer. About half will get the bulk of their expenses covered by our scholarships, the other half will receive smaller amounts that offset family out-of-pocket expenses that otherwise might have prevented their participation.

    We are pleased that the spirit of volunteerism and the will to serve others is strong in students from every economic strata and that all the kids will benefit from working, learning and growing together.

    Learn more at

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