Date of Award


Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis

First Advisor

Katharine Anderson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Thomas Hudspeth, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Laurie Kutner, M.A; M.L.I.S.


Volunteer, Ecotourism, Communication, Gap Year, Ecuador


Volunteer-based ecotourism is a growing trend in the field of international travel. Euro-American youth pay thousands of dollars to intermediary private companies in order to volunteer with ecological reserves and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs). The majority of the research on “voluntourism” discusses the personal motivations of the volunteers, and neglects to discuss volunteers’ work ethic in relation to their expectations of project goals. This study examined two different ecological reserves in Ecuador that accept paying volunteers, and monitored the communications of goals and interactions between the project managers, coordinators and the volunteers. By working with volunteers and monitoring their work ethic, I was able to discern where the problems were arising; in the lack of communication. Two weeks were spent at each site to collect data via participant observation and open-ended interviews. Volunteers were observed working more diligently if they understood the reasons for the work, and could see how it tied into larger goals of environmental protection and conservation. When work was either mundane, or not directly linked to reforestation and ecological preservation, volunteers would become frustrated that the experience did not live up to the expectations put upon them by intermediary private companies. Therefore, when goals are clearly stated, and align with the volunteers’ expectations as described by intermediary private companies, then the goals of both the host ecological reserve and the volunteer have a much greater chance of being reached.