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Power to the hosts: how to fix volunteer tourism

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Volunteer tourism should be subject to checks and balances, with host communities firmly in the driver’s seat. Shutterstock
Pascal Scherrer, Southern Cross University and Jessica Steele, St Mary's University, Twickenham

Volunteer tourism, or voluntourism, is no stranger to criticism. Media reports regularly support claims that profits and visitor experience are trumping the needs of host communities.

Volunteer tourism is the intersection between tourism and volunteering. It involves travellers participating in organised short-term voluntary work to help communities, the environment and/or research in the places they visit.

Late last year, World Challenge – the world’s biggest school-based volunteer travel company – stopped offering trips to orphanages in the developing world, based on evidence of the harms done to children by the industry.

So what has gone wrong? How could the feel-good darling of tourism become so tarnished? And, more importantly, how can we change it for the better?


Read more: Volunteer tourism: what's wrong with it and how it can be changed


Our research suggests host communities need to be put firmly in the driver’s seat, particularly in terms of monitoring and evaluation of volunteer tourism programs. This will require a much bigger rethink than a reframing of volunteer experiences and reworking of existing programs.

Growth and change

Volunteer tourism comes in many forms. For many years, it was lauded as a win-win activity. Volunteers get the experience of a lifetime while making a valuable contribution to society. Host communities benefit through language lessons for their children or construction of a new building.

In its early days, volunteer tourism was mainly organised by NGOs who were not looking to make a profit. As it became increasingly popular, many private and commercial organisations entered the market and made lots of money.

The way organisations deliver programs and partner with other organisations has also become increasingly fluid. This influences the level of responsibility they take for their actions.


Read more: Modern slavery and tourism: when holidays and human exploitation collide


Our study highlights that few volunteer tourism organisations rigorously monitored and evaluated the impacts of their programs. Some simply assumed the more volunteers they sent, the more positive impact they would create.

Those that did engage with monitoring and evaluation naturally focused on the experience of the volunteers. When a program didn’t seem to work well or problems arose, activities were simply moved elsewhere. Host communities were seen as commodities rather than equal or leading partners. As as research participant explained about his organisation:

Most of the time we just yank the programs because we just see the fundamental problems with it, like the mangrove project, the school program as well, I guess the contraception one, our lessons are learned.

Monitoring and evaluation can help organisations to identify and understand problems with their programs before it is too late, thus providing opportunities for improving them. A strong and open relationship between the hosts and the volunteer tourism organisations is nonetheless important to the effectiveness of monitoring and evaluation.

Volunteer tourism programs were once seen as a win-win situation. Shutterstock

Relationships matter

Our research examined relationships between the volunteer tourism organisations based in developed countries (which recruit and send the volunteers), in-country host partner organisations that co-ordinate projects locally, and host communities for the projects.

We looked at both one-to-one and multi-organisational partnerships to see how they influenced monitoring and evaluation.

Almost all the organisations in our study agreed that host communities should be involved in the monitoring and evaluation of their programs. Much fewer said they did so effectively.

Trust and power were key issues. As one participant said:

It is often difficult to get 100% honest feedback due to the complex power relations involved.

Other problems include a lack of accountability and clarity over who is or should be responsible for monitoring and evaluation.

So, what can organisations do to avoid projects that “serve the egos of the tourists more effectively than they serve the locals”? How can we facilitate volunteer tourism that really does benefit those it is meant to serve?

Relationships between volunteer organisations, in-country partners and host communities are important. Shutterstock

Monitoring and evaluation is key

Monitoring and evaluation of volunteer tourism programs provides essential checks and balances, and ensures they are achieving their goals. If the overall aim of volunteer tourism is to achieve positive outcomes for host communities, then it makes sense to involve them actively and meaningfully in these processes.

Trust and strong relationships between communities and volunteer tourism providers is important.

Hosts need to feel safe and be confident in the relationship to speak openly and honestly about their experiences. Any fear of repercussions such as losing funding or volunteers is counterproductive.

So what might best practice look like? There is no one size fits all approach as organisational and program arrangements vary widely and continue evolving. Guiding considerations such as ensuring methods are culturally appropriate and that intended programme beneficiaries are included throughout the process provide a framework of good practice to facilitate monitoring and evaluation. It is also essential that findings are acted upon appropriately.

Where to from here?

Our research proposes an approach that contributes to a more sustainable model of volunteer tourism by putting host communities at the centre of monitoring and evaluation.


Read more: Think looking after turtles in Costa Rica for three weeks is good for your CV? Think again


Volunteer tourism provides life-changing opportunities for volunteers. It can facilitate valuable cultural exchange and exposure. It could even be leveraged to diversify host community income.

But let’s make sure we openly examine the outcomes of volunteer tourism activities and amplify the voice of the host communities through their central role in monitoring and evaluation.The Conversation

Pascal Scherrer, Senior Lecturer, School of Business and Tourism, Southern Cross University and Jessica Steele, Lecturer, Tourism Programmes, St Mary's University, Twickenham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

‘Sustainable tourism’ is not working – here’s how we can change that

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Trips to Antartica are part of the ‘last chance’ tourism to environmentally fragile places. Shutterstock
Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, University of South Australia

Last year was the United Nations’ International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. UN World Tourism Organisation Secretary-General Taleb Rifai declared it gave:

… a unique opportunity to advance the contribution of the tourism sector to the three pillars of sustainability – economic, social and environmental, while raising awareness of the true dimensions of a sector which is often undervalued.

Sustainable tourism comes from the concept of sustainable development, as set out in the 1987 Brundtland report. Sustainable development is:

… development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

British environmental activist George Monbiot argued that, over the years, sustainable development has morphed into sustained growth. The essence of his argument is that little resolve exists to go beyond rhetoric. This is because environmental crises require we limit the demands we place on it, but our economies require endless growth.

At the moment, economic growth trumps environmental limits, so sustainability remains elusive.

What is sustainable tourism?

Tourism is important to our efforts to achieve sustainable development. It is a massive industry, and many countries rely on it for their economies.

In 2016, more than 1.2 billion people travelled as tourists internationally, and another 6 billion people travelled domestically.

According to the UN World Tourism Organisation, sustainable tourism is:

… tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.

Following on from Monbiot’s criticism, we might ask if efforts are directed at “sustaining tourism”, or instead harnessing tourism for wider sustainable development goals.

No place is off the tourism circuit

Looking at some of the tourism trouble spots, complacency is not called for.

Venice residents have accused tourists of “destroying their city”. Barcelona’s government has passed legislation to limit new tourist accommodation. The Galapagos sees mass tourism’s arrival threatening the iconic wildlife that attracts visitors.

No place is off the tourism circuit, so tourism grows with few limits. Ironically, tourists even want to tour Antarctica to see its pristine environment before it disappears (“last-chance tourism”). This is despite their impacts contributing to global warming and threatening this last wild place.

It is difficult to get a complete picture of the impacts of tourism because no-one is working to build a comprehensive view. So, insights are fragmented.

While we might be sceptical that UN “years” are often more rhetoric than real, we can nonetheless seize the opportunity to make tourism more sustainable.

How can tourism be made more sustainable?

Tourism can be made more sustainable through several achievable measures. Some look to technological solutions so we can continue business as usual. Others highlight conscious consumerism and ideas like slow travel.

But in a world in which growing populations with endless consumer demands are pitted against a fragile environment, we require more concerted effort.

1) Governments must implement policies that foster sustainable development by overcoming the growth fetish. Tourism then should be developed only within sustainable development parameters. Governments must tackle the environmental limits to growth and climate change challenges we confront. Tourism development requires integrated planning. So, we need the government tourism authorities – such as Tourism Australia or state tourism commissions – focused equally on integrated planning as the marketing they currently emphasise.

2) Consumers should be educated for responsible travel choices. For example, few realise that all-inclusive resorts result in economic benefits from tourism leaking out of the host economy back to the home economies of the big multinationals and corporations that often own such resorts (think Club Med). Civics education in schools could educate for responsible travel.

3) Local communities, often treated as only as one stakeholder among the many, must have a right to participate in tourism decision-making and have a say on if and how their communities become tourism destinations.

4) Workers of tourism must have their rights respected and given decent conditions. Tourism should not be allowed to continue as a low-wage and precarious source of employment.

5) The tourism industry needs to assume greater responsibility, submitting to local tax regimes and regulations so its presence builds thriving communities, rather than undermining them. This is increasingly essential as a social license to operate. The industry should also educate its clients on responsible tourism.

6) Non-governmental organisations are essential for reporting on the abuses of tourism, including land grabs, human rights abuses, community opposition and corruption.

Harnessing these essential stakeholders in a rigorous agenda for sustainable development, rather than sustaining tourism, would make the UN’s “year” more meaningful.The Conversation

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, Senior Lecturer in Tourism, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Drones and Wildlife - Working to co-exist

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Researchers have reviewed evidence for wildlife disturbance and current drone policies and found that the law is playing catch-up with emerging technology. Pip Wallace, CC BY-ND
Pip Wallace, University of Waikato; Iain White, University of Waikato, and Ross Martin, University of Waikato

The drone market is booming and it is changing the way we use airspace, with some unforeseen consequences.

The uptake of remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) has been swift. But despite their obvious benefits, concerns are growing about impacts on wildlife.

In our research we investigate whether regulation is keeping pace with the speed of technological change. We argue that it doesn’t, and we suggest that threatened species might need extra protection to ensure they aren’t harmed by drones.

RPA management

Drones are useful tools for conservation biologists. They allow them to survey inaccessible terrain and assist with many challenging tasks, from seeding forests to collecting whale snot.

But researchers are also discovering that RPAs have negative impacts on wildlife, ranging from temporary disturbances to fatal collisions.

Disturbance from vehicles and other human activity are known to affect wildlife, but with the speed that drones have entered widespread use, their effects are only just starting to be studied.

So far, the regulatory response has focused squarely on risks to human health, safety and privacy, with wildlife impacts only rarely taken into account, and even then usually in a limited way.


Read more: The age of drones has arrived quicker than the laws that govern them


It is not uncommon for regulatory gaps to arise when new technology is introduced. The rapid growth of drone technology raises a series of questions for environmental law and management.

We have reviewed evidence for wildlife disturbance and current drone policies and found that the law is playing catch-up with emerging technology.

Impacts on wildlife range from disturbance to fatal collisions. Pip Wallace, CC BY-ND

This is particularly important in New Zealand, where many threatened species live outside protected reserves. Coastal areas are of particular concern. They provide habitat for numerous threatened and migrating species but also experience high rates of urban development and recreational activity. Different species also respond very differently to the invasion of their airspace.

Where “flying for fun” and pizza delivery by drone combine with insufficient control, there is potential for unanticipated consequences to wildlife.

RPA and red tape

When competing interests collide, regulation requires particular care. Any rules on RPAs need to cater for a wide range of users, with varying skills and purposes, and enable beneficial applications while protecting wildlife.

There are strong social and economic drivers for the removal of red tape. Australia and the United States have introduced permissive regimes for lower-risk use, including recreational activity. In New Zealand, RPAs are considered as aircraft and controlled by civil aviation legislation.


Read more: New drone rules: with more eyes in the sky, expect less privacy


Wildlife disturbance, or other impacts on the environment, are not specifically mentioned in these rules and control options depend on existing wildlife law.

The lack of consideration of wildlife impacts in civil aviation rules creates a gap, which is accompanied by an absence of policy guidance. As a consequence, the default position for limiting RPA operations comes from the general requirement for property owner consent.

RPA and spatial controls

RPA operators wanting to fly over conservation land have to get a permit from the Department of Conservation, which has recognised wildlife disturbance as a potential issue.

On other public land, we found that local authorities take a patchy and inconsistent approach to RPA activity, with limited consideration of effects on wildlife. On private land, efforts to control impacts to wildlife depend on the knowledge of property owners.

Protection of wildlife from RPA impacts is further confounded by limitations of legislation that governs the protection of wildlife and resource use and development. The Wildlife Act 1953 needs updating to provide more effective control of disturbance effects to species.

Marine mammals get some protection from aircraft disturbance under species-specific legislation. Other than that, aircraft are exempt from regulation under the Resource Management Act, which only requires noise control for airports. As a result, tools normally used to control spatial impacts, such as protective zoning, setbacks and buffers for habitat and species are not available.

This makes sense for aircraft flying at 8,000m or more, but drones use space differently, are controlled locally, and generate local effects. It is also clear that equipment choices and methods of RPA operation can reduce risks to wildlife.

Keeping drones out of sensitive spaces

Dunedin City Council in New Zealand recently approved a bylaw banning drones from ecologically sensitive areas. This is a good start but we think a more consistent and universal approach is required to protect threatened species.

As a starter, all RPA operations should be guided by specific policy and made available on civil aviation websites, addressing impacts to wildlife and RPA methods of operation. In addition, we advocate for research into regulatory measures requiring, where appropriate, distance setbacks of RPA operations from threatened and at risk species.

Distance setbacks are already used in the protection of marine mammals from people, aircraft and other sources of disturbance. Setbacks benefit species by acting as a mobile shield in contrast to a fixed area protection.

Congestion of space is a condition of modern life, and the forecast exponential growth of RPA in the environment indicates that space will become even more contested in future, both in the air and on the ground. We argue that stronger measures that recognise the potential impacts on wildlife, how this may differ from species to species, and how this may be concentrated in certain locations, are required to deliver better protection for threatened species.The Conversation

Pip Wallace, Senior lecturer in Environmental Planning, University of Waikato; Iain White, Professor of Environmental Planning, University of Waikato, and Ross Martin, Doctoral Candidate (Coastal Ecology), University of Waikato

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Beaches In and Around Albany - Middelton Beach

Middleton Beach was named after Captain Middleton in 1934. Captain Middleton is an ancestor of Kate Middleton now married to Prince William and proud mother of 3. He brought Governor James Stirling to Western Australia.  It is the main swimming beach for Albany and offers swimming and recreational beach activities. The waters are protected by King George Sound; the Southern Ocean's waves do not usually reach these sheltered waters.

 Image Credit: Ben Reynolds via Albany Region

Image Credit: Ben Reynolds via Albany Region

Middleton Beach has a jetty, and in summer a pontoon (a floating construction that can hold many swimmers) is placed in the ocean for delight and fun of swimmers.

At the far southern end of Middleton Beach, where the bay wraps around the headland (King Point) is called Ellen Cove. Sheltered from the strongest waves by King Head, Ellen Cove is a beautiful nook at the end of Middleton Beach and where you will find the start of The Ellen Cove Boardwalk.

Nearby you can find Three Anchors restaurant/bar/kiosk/art gallery and meeting room. A  venue for people to chill with a beer, good food whilst watching the waves roll in.

Just a short stroll from Albany’s Middleton Beach, Rats Bar offers a unique Great Southern experience – the setting is friendly and intimate; the atmosphere is vibrant and relaxed.

Wildlife In and Around Albany - Woylie

The Brush-tailed bettong or Woylie (Bettongia penicillata) was until recently very abundant in the south west but, starting in 2006, it has suffered a dramatic decline and is now currently listed as Critically Endangered. Nobody knows why. This underlines the critical need for protection of these unique species and their habitat in a biodiversity hotspot under increasing pressure from urbanisation.

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This species is strictly nocturnal and is not gregarious. It can breed all year round if the conditions are favorable. The female can breed at six months of age and give birth every 3.5 months. Its lifespan in the wild is about four to six years.[5] The woylie is able to use its tail, curled around in a prehensile manner, to carry bundles of nesting material. It builds its dome-shaped nest in a shallow scrape under a bush. The nest, which consists of grass and shredded bark, sticks, leaves, and other available material, is well-made and hidden. The woylie rests in its nest during the day and emerges at night to feed.

The woylie has an unusual diet for a mammal. Although it may eat bulbstubers, seeds, insects, and resin of the hakea plant, the bulk of its nutrients are derived from underground fungi which it digs out with its strong foreclaws. These fungi can only be digested indirectly. In a portion of its stomach, the fungi are consumed by bacteria. These bacteria produce the nutrients that are digested in the rest of the stomach and small intestine. When it was widespread and abundant, the woylie likely played an important role in the dispersal of fungal spores within desert ecosystems.

The woylie once inhabited more than 60% of the Australian mainland, but now occurs on less than 1%. It formerly ranged over all of the southwest of Eastern Australia, most of South Australia, the northwest corner of Victoria, and across the central portion of New South Wales. It was abundant in the mid-19th century. By the 1920s, it was extinct over much of its range. As of 1992, it was reported only from four small areas in Western Australia. In South Australia, a several populations have been established through reintroduction of captive-bred animals. As of 1996, it occurred in six sites in Western Australia, including Karakamia Sanctuary run by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, and on three islands and two mainland sites in South Australia, following the reintroduction program and the controlling of foxes. Today, this species lives mostly in open sclerophyll forest and Malee eucalyptus woodlands with a dense low understory of tussock grasses.However, this versatile species is also known to have once inhabited a wide range of habitats, including low arid scrub or desert spinifex grasslands.

"It is believed the woylie population peaked a decade ago at more than 250,000, but numbers have since declined by about 90 per cent." However, despite these losses woylies continue to thrive as small localized populations in fox- and cat-free sanctuaries, including a population at Wadderin Sanctuary in the central Western Australian wheatbelt established in 2010. Wadderin is one of very few sanctuary projects within Australia managed by a local community. The community group includes current and retired farmers and townsfolk. This project was set up to exclude foxes and feral cats and so allow reconstruction of the past native fauna.

 

Image Source: By arthur_chapman [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Wildlife In and Around Albany - Western Brush Wallaby

The western brush wallaby (Macropus irma), also known as the black-gloved wallaby, is a species of wallaby found in the southwest coastal region of Western Australia. The wallaby's main threat is predation by the introduced red fox (Vulpes vulpes) The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the western brush wallaby as Least Concern, as it remains fairly widespread and the population is believed to be stable or increasing, as a result of fox control programs.

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The western brush wallaby has a grey colour with distinctive white colouring around the face, arms and legs (although it does have black gloves as its alternative common name implies). It is an unusually diurnal macropod that eats mainly grass.

Little is known about the behaviour of the western brush wallaby, however much of their behavior is consistent with that of other members of the family Macropodidae.

Although quite small, the western brush wallaby's coloring resembles the larger kangaroos of the region. The western brush wallaby's head and body length usually falls around 1.2 m. Their tail length, which ranges from 54–97 cm, is proportionally long to their smaller body size. The adult western brush wallaby weighs anywhere from 7.0-9.0 kg. Their coloring consists of a pale to mid gray coat with a distinct white facial stripe. Other distinct features include black and white ears, black hands and feet, and crest of black hairs on the tail. The size of the male and female are quite similar.

The western brush wallaby is a herbivore, although there is disagreement on whether it is a browser, eating mainly leaves, or a grazer, eating mainly grass, as there has not been extensive research done. It is a diurnal animal, which is somewhat unusual for macropods, and is active during dawn and dusk, making it crepuscular. It rests during the hottest part of the day and at night either singly or in pairs, taking shelter in bushes and small thickets . The wallabies will consume most species of plants, with the Carpobrotus edulisCynodon dactylon, and Nuytsia floribunda being the common dietary items. One source suggests that the wallaby’s diet is made up of 3-17% of grasses and sedges, 1-7% forbs, and 79-88% browsing material (mainly the leaves of low shrubs).The stomach is divided into four compartments where microorganisms can ferment the fibrous plant material. They appear to be able to survive without free water.

Like all others in the family Macropodidae, the western brush wallabies are characterized by powerful hind limbs and long hind feet. It runs by weaving or sidestepping, utilizing its powerful hind-limbs, while keeping its head low and its tail extended straight, making it very speedy.