Assessing the impacts of international volunteer tourism in host communities: A new approach to organizing and prioritizing indicators
This paper explores the use of indicators to evaluate the impacts of volunteer tourism in host communities, based on an online questionnaire sent to 183 volunteer tourism organizations. Little research exists demonstrating how volunteer tourism programs impact host communities or how impacts can be assessed, but the literature suggests the use of indicators to do so. Social indicator research and systems thinking assert that impact evaluation must be comprehensive and that indicators must consider interconnectivities present in the tourist system; we propose a framework of indicator development that addresses this. Data analysis focuses on volunteer tourist activities and how organizations prioritize indicators to assess diverse impacts of volunteer tourism in host communities. Comparisons are drawn between organizations in Latin America and international organizations (based in the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand) that send volunteers abroad. Differing volunteer activities suggest unique approaches between in-country and international organizations. The usefulness and degree of assessment of diverse indicators of the local impacts of volunteer tourism are quantified, while discrepancies between indicator usefulness and assessment raise questions. Comparisons between international and in-country organizations, large and small organizations, and organizations focusing on long-term vs. short-term trips suggest differing organizational priorities and impacts of volunteer tourism.