Tourism
David Clemmons

Tropical diseases, cold showers and outbreaks of war... it’s all part of the job for VolunTourism.org founder David Clemmons, as he tells Kath Hudson

By Kath Hudson | Published in Leisure Management 2014 issue 1


I’ve never had an interview almost fall through because the interviewee was suffering from a tropical disease, but David Clemmons walks the walk as well as talks the talk. He says that discomfort among his recruits is one of the indicators of the success of a project. Clearly a man who faces down hardship and who regards nasty diseases as part of the job, he did the interview from his sickbed.

It took a while to track Clemmons down in the first place; he was in Bolivia “in the field” with no telephone access, looking to set up some project opportunities, as well as formalising a voluntourism institute in Latin America.

A few projects are in the pipeline in Bolivia, including at a village near San Javier, where a resident has proposed constructing cabanas to host voluntourists, as well as building a bridge across the Rio Arriva and developing a ‘beach’ to enjoy the river. Another potential project involves dinosaur fossil preservation and conservation.

It all sounds rather exciting, but Clemmons stresses voluntourism is not glamorous. Tourism is part of it, but being of service comes first. “The experiences can be raw: cold showers, if at all, lots of insects, sickness of various kinds and lengthy transfers from one destination to another,” he says. “If voluntourists are not experiencing discomfort I’m not doing my job.”

With its primary role being education, VolunTourism.org was set up 10 years ago in response to global changes, which Clemmons says threaten to derail the self-serving and self-indulgent travel industry.

“The tourism industry has, for many years, built a niche within destinations by distancing itself from the socio-economic, political and environmental challenges of a destination, instead highlighting the sun/sand side,” he says. “This approach is no longer sustainable in a world that is becoming ever aware of the limitations of human beings, the cutbacks in social investment on the part of governments and the fact that communities must fend for themselves to a greater degree in the face of global climate change, increases in population, and greater strains on natural resources.”

Voluntourists do both voluntary service and travel and tourism-related activities while at a destination. Trips last one to two weeks and involve voluntourists working with a local community on something of importance to its residents. Participants fund the trip themselves and the local community makes a contribution of labour, oversight, materials or supplies to bring the project to fruition.

According to Clemmons, one of the main challenges in setting up the organisation was the backlash from traditional thinkers who “wanted to shield volunteerism’s purity from the one-sided profit-seeking modality of tourism.” Clemmons, however, strongly believed there was a need for an organisation that could educate 21st century travellers trying to navigate their way through a host of ethical conumdrums, including global climate change; social, economic, and educational disparity; human rights abuses; overpopulation; religious fundamentalism and radicalism; and natural and man-made disasters.

Over the past 10 years, the organisation has undertaken research and sparked debate through workshops, seminars, conference presentations and the website. The 2009 Voluntourism Survey brought voluntourism to the public’s attention, and this research has been augmented with additional research from academics.

Clemmons liaises with communities, NGOs, tourism professionals, academics, students and public sector representatives, explaining what voluntourism has become and where it’s headed. He also hunts down project options and works with the pilot voluntourists to discover how they have responded to the experience and whether it would be possible to engage groups to come to that location.

Currently based in Bolivia, Clemmons had to relocate from Jordan because of the outbreak out of war in Syria. “We had spent months working on a plan to develop a robust voluntourism initiative in Jordan, when war broke out in Syria. There were already challenges due to the Arab Spring, however when the violence in Syria broke out, it was obvious travellers would be unlikely to come to the region,” he says. “The tourism industry in Jordan could not maintain itself under such pressures; a number of operators went bankrupt or simply closed their doors. Voluntourism, which requires investment on the part of the tourism sector, could not thrive under such conditions.”

Asked about his own motivation, Clemmons needs to think hard: “I suppose we all have our essential duty to fulfil in life. This happens to be mine.” And what has been the highest point? “There hasn’t been a highest high associated with our work at VolunTourism.org,” he says. “Our work is never done, and quite often represents a series of thankless tasks built upon one another. Our motto is a simple one: keep plugging along.”

So is there an upside? Emphatically, yes, says Clemmons. The destinations are exciting, exhilarating, of incredible interest with multi-cultural, historic, geographic, and environmental wonders with which to engage and explore. “Most important is the response from communities,” he says.

“With numerous interactions occurring in a given setting, the feedback from communities can truly tell us how successful these efforts are being in the minds and hearts of those who are most directly impacted.”

CASE STUDY

FRESH CHAPTER ALLIANCE FOUNDATION, INDIA

The Fresh Chapter Alliance Foundation believes that after trudging through treatment, cancer survivors deserve an opportunity to believe in big dreams again. 

From 16 February to 2 March 2013, the Fresh Chapter Alliance Foundation (www.afreshchapter.com) partnered with Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS) to pilot a programme for 12 cancer survivors from across North America, to travel to New Delhi, India. The programme incorporated volunteer work, cultural activities, and a bucket-list worthy trip to the Taj Mahal. 

While in India, CCS matched each participant with a local community project. Whether helping wash floors at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying & the Destitute, participating in English lessons at a school for children in one of Delhi’s many depressed areas or providing an extra set of hands to serve meals at special needs schools, each survivor discovered a renewed sense of purpose by acting as a volunteer and a cancer ambassador in communities where cancer is often veiled in shame, secrecy, and stigma. Thanks to a partnership with adventure travel company, G Adventures, each of the participants also had the chance to watch the sun rising over the Taj Mahal. 

The programme was designed to give participants a renewed sense of purpose. The Fresh Chapter Alliance plans to bring more cancer survivors to India and Africa. “We continue to change the world - one survivor at a time,” says Fresh Chapter Alliance founder Terri Wingham.

 



Terri Wingham
 


The group visited New Delhi in India
 
 


A trip to the was part of the experience
 
CASE STUDY

THE RITZ-CARLTON GIVE BACK GETAWAYS

Engage, inspire and contribute. These are the guiding principles of The Ritz-Carlton Give Back Getaways programme, launched in  2008. Guests staying at Ritz-Carlton hotels and resorts are invited to participate in half-day volunteer projects which are unique to the destination and make a lasting contribution.  
The programme appeals to a broad demographic including families, honeymooners and seniors - and feedback highlights the fact that the opportunity makes travellers’ trips personally enriching and much more memorable.  

Projects are unique to the destination and support the mission of the community partner organisation. Partners include: Big Cat Habitat in Sarasota, USA; Vivarium: Place of Life in Wolfsburg, Germany; Blue Iguana Recovery program in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; Sea Turtle 911 in Sanya, China; Malama Ke Aina in Kapalua, Maui; and Battery Urban Farm in New York, USA.

All Ritz-Carlton hotels and resorts offer Give Back Getaways, with the frequency of the experiences varying by location. Some are available daily, while others may be weekly, monthly or seasonal. The only requirement to participate in Give Back Getaways is enthusiasm to take part.  There are some age limitations for participating children but otherwise the programme is available to any interested guests.

 



Ritz-Carlton launched its Give Back Getaways voluntourism programme in 2008
David Clemmons
Voluntourists work with locals and also take part in tourism activities
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Leisure Management
2014 issue 1

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Leisure Management - David Clemmons

Tourism

David Clemmons


Tropical diseases, cold showers and outbreaks of war... it’s all part of the job for VolunTourism.org founder David Clemmons, as he tells Kath Hudson

Kath Hudson
VolunTourism.org founder David Clemmons,
David Clemmons
Voluntourists work with locals and also take part in tourism activities

I’ve never had an interview almost fall through because the interviewee was suffering from a tropical disease, but David Clemmons walks the walk as well as talks the talk. He says that discomfort among his recruits is one of the indicators of the success of a project. Clearly a man who faces down hardship and who regards nasty diseases as part of the job, he did the interview from his sickbed.

It took a while to track Clemmons down in the first place; he was in Bolivia “in the field” with no telephone access, looking to set up some project opportunities, as well as formalising a voluntourism institute in Latin America.

A few projects are in the pipeline in Bolivia, including at a village near San Javier, where a resident has proposed constructing cabanas to host voluntourists, as well as building a bridge across the Rio Arriva and developing a ‘beach’ to enjoy the river. Another potential project involves dinosaur fossil preservation and conservation.

It all sounds rather exciting, but Clemmons stresses voluntourism is not glamorous. Tourism is part of it, but being of service comes first. “The experiences can be raw: cold showers, if at all, lots of insects, sickness of various kinds and lengthy transfers from one destination to another,” he says. “If voluntourists are not experiencing discomfort I’m not doing my job.”

With its primary role being education, VolunTourism.org was set up 10 years ago in response to global changes, which Clemmons says threaten to derail the self-serving and self-indulgent travel industry.

“The tourism industry has, for many years, built a niche within destinations by distancing itself from the socio-economic, political and environmental challenges of a destination, instead highlighting the sun/sand side,” he says. “This approach is no longer sustainable in a world that is becoming ever aware of the limitations of human beings, the cutbacks in social investment on the part of governments and the fact that communities must fend for themselves to a greater degree in the face of global climate change, increases in population, and greater strains on natural resources.”

Voluntourists do both voluntary service and travel and tourism-related activities while at a destination. Trips last one to two weeks and involve voluntourists working with a local community on something of importance to its residents. Participants fund the trip themselves and the local community makes a contribution of labour, oversight, materials or supplies to bring the project to fruition.

According to Clemmons, one of the main challenges in setting up the organisation was the backlash from traditional thinkers who “wanted to shield volunteerism’s purity from the one-sided profit-seeking modality of tourism.” Clemmons, however, strongly believed there was a need for an organisation that could educate 21st century travellers trying to navigate their way through a host of ethical conumdrums, including global climate change; social, economic, and educational disparity; human rights abuses; overpopulation; religious fundamentalism and radicalism; and natural and man-made disasters.

Over the past 10 years, the organisation has undertaken research and sparked debate through workshops, seminars, conference presentations and the website. The 2009 Voluntourism Survey brought voluntourism to the public’s attention, and this research has been augmented with additional research from academics.

Clemmons liaises with communities, NGOs, tourism professionals, academics, students and public sector representatives, explaining what voluntourism has become and where it’s headed. He also hunts down project options and works with the pilot voluntourists to discover how they have responded to the experience and whether it would be possible to engage groups to come to that location.

Currently based in Bolivia, Clemmons had to relocate from Jordan because of the outbreak out of war in Syria. “We had spent months working on a plan to develop a robust voluntourism initiative in Jordan, when war broke out in Syria. There were already challenges due to the Arab Spring, however when the violence in Syria broke out, it was obvious travellers would be unlikely to come to the region,” he says. “The tourism industry in Jordan could not maintain itself under such pressures; a number of operators went bankrupt or simply closed their doors. Voluntourism, which requires investment on the part of the tourism sector, could not thrive under such conditions.”

Asked about his own motivation, Clemmons needs to think hard: “I suppose we all have our essential duty to fulfil in life. This happens to be mine.” And what has been the highest point? “There hasn’t been a highest high associated with our work at VolunTourism.org,” he says. “Our work is never done, and quite often represents a series of thankless tasks built upon one another. Our motto is a simple one: keep plugging along.”

So is there an upside? Emphatically, yes, says Clemmons. The destinations are exciting, exhilarating, of incredible interest with multi-cultural, historic, geographic, and environmental wonders with which to engage and explore. “Most important is the response from communities,” he says.

“With numerous interactions occurring in a given setting, the feedback from communities can truly tell us how successful these efforts are being in the minds and hearts of those who are most directly impacted.”

CASE STUDY

FRESH CHAPTER ALLIANCE FOUNDATION, INDIA

The Fresh Chapter Alliance Foundation believes that after trudging through treatment, cancer survivors deserve an opportunity to believe in big dreams again. 

From 16 February to 2 March 2013, the Fresh Chapter Alliance Foundation (www.afreshchapter.com) partnered with Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS) to pilot a programme for 12 cancer survivors from across North America, to travel to New Delhi, India. The programme incorporated volunteer work, cultural activities, and a bucket-list worthy trip to the Taj Mahal. 

While in India, CCS matched each participant with a local community project. Whether helping wash floors at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying & the Destitute, participating in English lessons at a school for children in one of Delhi’s many depressed areas or providing an extra set of hands to serve meals at special needs schools, each survivor discovered a renewed sense of purpose by acting as a volunteer and a cancer ambassador in communities where cancer is often veiled in shame, secrecy, and stigma. Thanks to a partnership with adventure travel company, G Adventures, each of the participants also had the chance to watch the sun rising over the Taj Mahal. 

The programme was designed to give participants a renewed sense of purpose. The Fresh Chapter Alliance plans to bring more cancer survivors to India and Africa. “We continue to change the world - one survivor at a time,” says Fresh Chapter Alliance founder Terri Wingham.

 



Terri Wingham
 


The group visited New Delhi in India
 
 


A trip to the was part of the experience
 
CASE STUDY

THE RITZ-CARLTON GIVE BACK GETAWAYS

Engage, inspire and contribute. These are the guiding principles of The Ritz-Carlton Give Back Getaways programme, launched in  2008. Guests staying at Ritz-Carlton hotels and resorts are invited to participate in half-day volunteer projects which are unique to the destination and make a lasting contribution.  
The programme appeals to a broad demographic including families, honeymooners and seniors - and feedback highlights the fact that the opportunity makes travellers’ trips personally enriching and much more memorable.  

Projects are unique to the destination and support the mission of the community partner organisation. Partners include: Big Cat Habitat in Sarasota, USA; Vivarium: Place of Life in Wolfsburg, Germany; Blue Iguana Recovery program in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; Sea Turtle 911 in Sanya, China; Malama Ke Aina in Kapalua, Maui; and Battery Urban Farm in New York, USA.

All Ritz-Carlton hotels and resorts offer Give Back Getaways, with the frequency of the experiences varying by location. Some are available daily, while others may be weekly, monthly or seasonal. The only requirement to participate in Give Back Getaways is enthusiasm to take part.  There are some age limitations for participating children but otherwise the programme is available to any interested guests.

 



Ritz-Carlton launched its Give Back Getaways voluntourism programme in 2008

Originally published in Leisure Management 2014 issue 1

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