This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Volunteer Tourism: A Catalyst for Promoting Community Development and Conservation




Lupoli, Christopher

Type of Degree



Forestry and Wildlife Sciences


Volunteer tourism is a rapidly growing form of alternative travel. One of its central pillars consists of benefiting host communities and facilitating development in resource poor and developing country contexts. However, little research exists demonstrating how volunteer tourism programs impact host communities or how impacts can be assessed. Few mechanisms have been proposed or developed to understand, identify or assess the impacts of volunteer tourism in host communities. One strategy to assess these impacts is by developing indicators to reveal the social, personal, economic and environmental impacts of volunteer tourism in host communities. This research employed four phases representing distinct approaches to understanding the ways that volunteer tourism impacts host communities and how such impacts can be assessed through indicators. It incorporates the perspectives of multiple stakeholders and culminates in an effective and useful tool of impact evaluation that can be employed by volunteer tourism organizations and host communities. Its goal is to encourage collaboration among volunteer tourism organizations and host communities in the impact evaluation process to ensure that volunteer tourism can address mutual goals and needs. Phase one explored the use of indicators to evaluate the impacts of volunteer tourism in host communities, based on an online questionnaire sent to 183 volunteer tourism organizations. Phase two involved a comparison of questionnaire data and telephone interviews conducted with numerous questionnaire respondents. It explored the complex relationships that exist between volunteer tourism organizations and host communities to understand the potential of volunteer tourism to promote community development and empower host communities to take control of their development process. In phase three, a participatory methodology of indicator development was tested in five host communities of volunteer tourism in Ecuador and Costa Rica. In each workshop, host community members and representatives of volunteer organizations collaborated and systematically identified and prioritized indicators of the local impacts of volunteer tourism. In phase four the data from the questionnaire and host community workshops were compared and contrasted to understand how they can be fused into a hybrid framework of indicator development that reflects the interests of both stakeholder groups (volunteer tourism organizations and host communities) in the impact evaluation process.