Tourism

Volunteer tourism can help disaster recovery, study finds

New research has found that volunteer tourism, which involves travelling to help those in need, can help communities recover from natural disaster.

Researchers from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) have found that when volunteer tourism – not to be confused with ‘disaster tourism’ – is done in an ethical manner that considers local conditions and the community, it can aid recovery and resilience. It can also offer a unique and rewarding experience for volunteers, if done correctly.

“When disaster hits a tourist destination – whether fire, flood, cyclone or earthquake – tourists naturally stay away, leaving communities to deal with loss of income on top of costs of repair and recovery,” Dr David Beirman, study co-author and senior lecturer in tourism at UTS, said.

“On the other hand, people who feel a natural curiosity, as well as a natural desire to help, are keen for experiences where they can interact with locals and make a difference.”

The findings form part of the ‘Engaging volunteer tourism in post-disaster recovery in Nepal’ study, which used the recovery efforts following the April 2015 Nepal earthquake as a case study.

The Nepal earthquake, which measured 8.1 on the Richter scale, killed nearly 9,000 people and injured 22,000, and caused severe damage to buildings and infrastructure.

In the four months that followed the incident, international tourism more than halved. A strategy was later developed by the Pacific Asia Travel Association and Nepalese tourism industry leaders that prioritised potential tourism regrowth markets, including volunteer tourism.

Nepal relaxed conditions to allow international tourists to volunteer on a wide range of projects, including rebuilding homes and schools, interning in hospitals, supporting non-government organisations and re-establishing sustainable agriculture.

In 2015, the year of the earthquake, just under 600,000 international tourists visited. By 2018, following implementation of the new strategy, the number of international tourists visiting Nepal reached a record of almost 1.2 million visitors. In 2019 it grew further.

“Nepal’s tourism recovery since the April 2015 earthquake has been remarkable and as our research shows, volunteer tourism has been a significant driving force for that recovery,” Beirman said.

To read the research paper, click here.

Featured image: (iStock.com/Byelikova_Oksana)

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