What Travel Agents Need to Know about Volunteer Travel

Written by: Guest on April 17, 2019

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By Carolyn Sekerak, KHM Travel Group’s Marketing Director

Last month, I had the opportunity to travel with others from my church to Thailand. The goal was to serve for a week at a home for girls in partnership with Remember Nhu, a nonprofit organization working around the globe to prevent sex trafficking by housing, educating, and caring for at-risk children. As someone who loves volunteering, and who also loves to travel, the trip was eye-opening and life-changing.

I believe travel alone changes you, but the chance to be more than a tourist and do some good in the lives of those in need increases the impact one person’s trip can make.

For travel agents, connecting your clients (or groups of clients) to these experiences can be rewarding too—perhaps the type of global impact you long to make with your business.

What is Voluntourism?

The children and volunteers enjoyed arts and crafts activities together, such as coloring and making bracelets. Photo by Carolyn Sekerak

Voluntourism is a form of tourism in which travelers participate in voluntary work, typically for a charity. This work can range from done-in-a-day service projects to longer stays that require short-term housing, meals, and day trips or cultural excursions.

Through Island Routes and the Sandals Foundation, clients traveling to the Caribbean and staying at Sandals or Beaches Resorts can book a Reading Road Trip excursion to read to children in Caribbean schools and impact literacy. Several cruise lines, including Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, and Costa Cruises, offer shore excursions highlighting education and economic development opportunities. Holland America Line’s Cruise with Purpose program also offers volunteer excursions in ports in Latin America, the Caribbean, Australia, and Alaska.

Volunteers looking to have a longer stay typically partner directly with organizations at home or abroad to facilitate the travel arrangements. However, for the travel agent who is willing to put in the extra time and effort, there are opportunities to obtain this type of business, develop itineraries, and maybe even travel with the group to experience voluntourism for yourself. Reaching out to local churches or volunteer organizations may help you identify both group leaders and travelers.

Tips for Planning Volunteer Trips

The hill tribe village is home to 400 villagers who migrated from Burma and Tibet to Northern Thailand. Their simple homes are built on stilts with bamboo floors and walls. Photo by Carolyn Sekerak

As a travel planner, it’s imperative to plan trips with your clients’ best interests in mind. This is especially true with trips of a volunteer nature. Often, your clients will be deeply passionate about the purpose they are traveling for, and so their expectations will be high. The itinerary for my trip to Thailand was set three months prior to the group’s departure, and thankfully both daily transportation and local guides were provided by the organization.

Be sure to inform travelers on what items to bring, especially for those traveling to a remote location with limited access to city or resort amenities. Educate travelers on the destination’s culture, currency, and language. Trip insurance is highly recommended for this type of travel as the itinerary may involve riskier destinations or activities.

Bringing Donated Items

Although the children of the hill tribe spoke no English, they were all smiles as they posed for photos with the visitors. Photo by Carolyn Sekerak

Check with your group about their specific luggage needs. For Thailand, each member of my group brought an additional bag to carry gifts and donations of school supplies, personal care items, and clothing for the girls. We also purchased items from local vendors to donate.

For independent travelers, Pack for a Purpose is a nonprofit organization that connects travelers to community projects around the world. You can find your client’s destination on the website and access a wish list of items and contact information to donate the items in destination.


Making a Lasting Impact

The volunteer group explores the grounds of a local Buddhist temple, which featured a 17-meter sitting Buddha statue. Photo by Carolyn Sekerak

Especially with short-term trips, it’s important to work with the group or client to identify the must-do cultural experiences that will both educate them and increase their understanding and effectiveness as a volunteer. For me and my group, the trip’s three must-haves for our Thailand trip were: a village visit, exploring a Buddhist temple, and attending a cultural dinner and show in old Chiang Mai. Participating in these experiences helped to develop a respect for the religion and culture of Northern Thailand and the girls the group came to serve.

It’s also important to balance these cultural experiences with the time commitment required of volunteer service. My mission group spent about four hours a day at the girls’ home. While this may not seem like much, having time for relaxation and group activities helped us truly experience Thailand’s culture and recover from our massive jet lag!

I hope to serve again someday, either in Thailand, or another destination where it is most needed. In the meantime, I thank KHM Travel Group and our agents for their support and welcome any agent inquiries about the unique challenges and benefits of voluntourism, either as a travel agent or as a traveler!

KHM Travel Group is a host travel agency that supports over 4,000 travel agents across the country. To learn more about starting your own travel business from home, fill out the form to the right or give our team a call at 1-888-611-1220.

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