Date of Award
Volunteer Tourism, Ecotourism, University of Vermont, Alternative Spring Break, Volunteer Management
Volunteer ecotourism and Alternative Spring Break (ASB) are relatively new concepts in the travel and tourism sector, and are rapidly gaining popularity. These programs intend to provide meaningful travel and service experiences to volunteers while providing benefits to communities in the form of environmental or social justice work. However, many lack adequate evaluative measures that take multiple stakeholders’ viewpoints into consideration. This study examines two of UVM’s environmentally focused ASB trips as cases of volunteer ecotourism: one to a wildlife rehabilitation sanctuary and another to a National Seashore. Data collection included interviewing ASB members (directors, leaders, and participants) and host organization staff as well as analyzing post-trip surveys. Qualitative hand coding was the primary data analysis method. The results exhibit that ASB students shared similar expectations for rigorous service work, while host organizations cited more intangible expectations of education and awareness. At the wildlife sanctuary, budget constraints, low capacity to host volunteers and broader organizational challenges impacted meaningfulness and goal fulfillment. The lack of interaction between hosts and students also led to problematic outcomes. At the National Seashore, higher capacity for volunteers, project-based service, and constant interaction between volunteers and hosts provided for more meaningful experiences, and students reported higher incidence of reflection and satisfaction. This research demonstrates that volunteer and host organization expectations along with interaction between volunteers and hosts are important factors in creating meaningful, successful volunteer ecotourism experiences. The research provides action items for improving environmental ASB trips, including adapted preparation processes; improved communication of expectations and goals; inclusion of hosts in post-trip evaluation; and improved documentation and long-term management of UVM ASB. Furthermore, these findings suggest the ASB model provides a unique form of short-term volunteer labor, which might be suited for organizations with greater capacities to absorb and integrate volunteers on a short-term basis.
Fontein, Amelia, "Vacationing for a Cause: Volunteer Ecotourism on Alternative Spring Break" (2016). Environmental Studies Electronic Thesis Collection. 37.