ISV Supports Auburn University to Research the Impacts of Volunteer Tourism

by isvolunteers on Thursday, 8 November 2012

An International Study Developed by Auburn University

Earlier this year Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Science approached ISV to assist with some research into long term achievements in conservation and community development through volunteer programs.

Specifically, Auburn asked ISV if we could select one of the communities in Costa Rica that hosts our volunteer programs and help to organize and facilitate a workshop within that community. The purpose of the workshop was to provide an opportunity for Auburn University Ph.D. student Christopher Lupoli to gather data and address his research goals: 1) to develop an effective set of indicators for organizations to assess the economic, social and environmental impacts of volunteer tourism in host communities; and 2) to refine a participatory methodology that can be used to engage community members in identifying, evaluating and monitoring the local impacts of volunteer tourism projects.

ISV has a great number of projects that we have developed and supported within Costa Rica. However we selected the Santos Project as our host community as we have sent over 12 volunteer groups since 2009, equivalent to approximately 130 participants overall. In addition, our efforts with Santos Projects have focused on a diverse range of social and environmental initiatives within the region, such as reforestation, educational mural creation, the construction of community facilities, organic farming and biodiesel production, with over 50 families benefiting from the program. Santos Projects aim to help local communities become more economically sustainable by providing alternative income opportunities like eco-tourism, and by developing more eco-friendly agricultural practices.On September 29, with the participation of several local stakeholders (see below), the facilitation of, and the logistical coordination from Santos and ISV, the workshop was carried out in the town of Providencia de Dota.

Christopher Lupoli explained the importance of his research to the workshop participants by highlighting that volunteer tourism is a major growing industry worldwide, but that there is limited information showing how this type of tourism can bring social, personal, economic and environmental benefits to local communities, and how such benefits can be assessed.

Participation certificate

Workshop Participants in Providencia de Dota, Costa Rica:

  • Orlando Agüero, representative of a local school
  • Jonathan Cerdas and Carlos Marin, Santos Projects representatives
  • Gerardo Vega, local farmer
  • Felix Hidalgo, local business owner (grocery store)
  • Edilio Agüero, local restaurant owner
  • Adriana Bonilla,  member of a volunteer’s host family
  • Alejandro Retana, person who works directly with volunteers in the field
  • Francis Retana, person not directly involved in working with volunteers
  • Yeiner Saenz, young community member
  • Marita Vega, community elder
  • Javier Agüero, representative of Coopedota (Dota Agricultures Cooperative)
  • Pablo Montero, ISV Costa Rica Projects Logistics Coordinator

This diverse group of participants provided a very comprehensive picture of the impacts of volunteer tourism in Providencia de Dota. A community vision was generated, a small number of priority impacts were identified, and strategies for evaluating or measuring such impacts were discussed. The workshop was also effective in making a clear point that impacts can be social, personal, economic or ecological, and that they are all closely linked and should receive equal attention. Santos Tours and ISV hope to continue conducting similar workshops in the future to ensure that the impacts of volunteer tourism in their host communities are well understood, that they address community priorities, and to reveal strategies to monitor the impacts in the future. Once this academic study is completed, Auburn University will provide Santos Tours and ISV with the results and a comprehensive tool that can be applied to help them continue this important work of identifying and assessing the benefits of volunteer tourism for host communities.

Wagner Quiros, Project Director, ISV Costa Rica

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