Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Volunteer tourism motivation

Volunteer tourism motivation
What motivates volunteer tourism?


Figure 1. Volunteer tourist teaching math in Mali.

Who doesn’t love a holiday? When thinking of tourism, many of us picture relaxation, indulgence, adventure or time with loved ones, but with over 1.5 billion international trips per year (World Economic Forum, 2022) there are many different reasons why individuals are motivated to travel.

One segment of the tourism industry is known as volunteer tourism, where participants combine a holiday with volunteering. For example, building houses in Cambodia, conservation work in Costa Rica and teaching mathematics in Mali (see Figure 1)[grammar?]. This chapter explores the motivation of volunteer tourists and utilises psychological and motivational theory to provide relevant models or categories motivation[grammar?]. Key motivations for volunteer tourism are identified and discussed, providing the opportunity to leverage insights to design, attract and engage participants in activities which provide traveller satisfaction and achieve charitable outcomes.

Focus questions:

  • What is volunteer tourism?
  • What are some typographies of volunteer tourist motivations?
  • What are motivating factors for volunteer tourism?

Volunteer tourismEdit

Volunteer tourism is also sometimes referred to as volunteer vacation or voluntourism (a combination of the words volunteer and tourism). According to the most widely used definition, volunteer tourists are people "who for various reasons, volunteer in an organised way to undertake holidays that might involve the aiding or alleviating the material poverty of some groups in society, the restoration of certain environments, or research into aspects of society or environment" (Wearing, 2001).

Volunteers play a central role in strengthening people and communities. Volunteerism promotes better governance, helps build more equal and inclusive societies, and fosters stability[factual?]. Increasingly, volunteers across the globe are working with governments and organisations to address urgent development challenges, from climate change, to ecosystem and biodiversity loss, to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic (United Nations Volunteers, 2021). Volunteer work away from home has influence on the lives and lifestyles of both the volunteers and communities, and enable a more equal world in the field of tourism (Wearing & Deane, 2003).

With the growth in popularity of volunteer tourism, an industry of professional volunteer tourism organisations and programs specifically targeting this sector has emerged. Understanding more about the motivations of voluntourists can help these organisations to design engaging volunteer tourism programs, appeal to the target audience with appealing marketing material and get the best out of volunteers during their experience.


A participant who is volunteering outside of their own community for a period of time that is less than a year and is seeking a touristic experience[grammar?][factual?]. Note that in many cases, these people would refer to themselves as ‘volunteers’ not ‘voluntourists’.

Voluntourism organisationsEdit

Organisations that cater for the voluntourism market[grammar?]. These organisations arrange the trip for the voluntourist. Services range from payment for the activity to a full touristic package including flights, accommodation, voluntourism activities, meals and other touristic trips.

Host organisationsEdit

Organisations that receive the participant and provide guidance and instructions at a volunteer project, either as a contractual local partner of the sending organisation or as a totally independent organisation, such as an NGO[grammar?]. Hosting organisations often also provide location-related living conditions such as food, accommodation, free-time activities, contact with local community, support and so forth. They also address work-related needs including training, materials, safety instructions and insurance. They usually partner with volunteer-servicing organisations to attract volunteers.

Servicing organisationsEdit

Organisations that act as brokers, mediators, agents or third-party providers that recruit, manage and support voluntourists. Servicing organisations mainly operate through websites or umbrella organisations and provide steady flows of volunteers to the sending and hosting organisations of voluntourism projects. In doing so, in most cases, servicing organisations host an online portal for voluntourism opportunities, through which they offer, market and sell a variety of activities that are available through sending and hosting organisations.

Sending organisationsEdit

Sending organisations are generally based in the home economy of the participant and provide information about the project. They usually take responsibility for the recruitment of voluntourists and organise (to various extents) accommodation, travel and free-time activities, as well as provide financial and visa advice. They also provide preparation materials for the participant prior to their departure to the destination. Sending organisations communicate with (potential) hosting organisations and participants during their stay abroad, and in some cases follow up with the participant after they return home. These organisations can be voluntourism specific, or they can be tour operator/travel agents, school/universities, church or religious-based groups.

Host communitiesEdit

Communities who are directly affected by voluntourism taking place in their locality.

Example: Voluntourism organisation

GOOD Travel provides ten tips on how to be a GOOD traveller, blogs for voluntourists to reflect on why they are motivated to be a voluntourist, and links to resources on how to be a better voluntourist. The organisation shares links to blogs and videos for volunteers to reflect on their motivations as well as tips to be a good volunteers and responsible travellers. GOOD Travel shares resources from other organisations such as the ChildSafe Movement, which provides tips on how to protect children during your travels.

Psychological theories of volunteer tourism motivationEdit

Since the growth of volunteer tourism, significant research has sought to segment the behaviour of participants and developed a number of applicable theories. The early framework of a self-oriented and other-oriented dichotomy of volunteer motivation has been adapted to give applied value specifically to volunteer tourism.

Push and pull motivationsEdit

Push/pull volunteer tourism motives are explained as push (internal) motivations being forces within an individual including helping others or self-improvement and pull (external) motivations are the appeal of the destination or project (Grimm & Needham, 2012). For example, volunteer tourists may travel to Thailand due to internal push motivation for self-actualisation but could also be attracted based on pull motivations related to a worthy cause or specific activity.

Allocentric, middle-centric and psychocentricEdit

The earliest model that forms the basis of tourism typology theory was established by Stanley Plog (1974). He constructed a cognitive-normative model based upon psychographic types. At one end of the continuum are psychocentric tourists and at the other end allocentric tourists. The allocentrics are explorers and adventure seekers, who tend to choose remote and untouched tourist destinations. Middle-centrics are likely to display characteristics of a limited adventurer, but they want home comforts. It is this group that represents the mass tourist market. Psychocentrics dislike destinations that offer unfamiliarity or insecurity. It is suggested that the psychocentric is dominated by safety needs (Brown, 2005). In this framework, a volunteer tourist is likely to be allocentric.

Shallow, Intermediate and Deep motivationsEdit

Another perspective is the shallow, intermediate and deep categorisation. Shallow volunteer tourists are mostly focused on their own self-development, may be more extrinsically motivated and seek short term, less confronting volunteer tourism experiences. Deep volunteer tourists aim to use their existing skills and experience to contribute to a cause or community, which is more others-oriented. They are more willing to participate in longer term projects, consume information before departure and integrate into the host community (Callahan & Thomas, 2005).

VOLUNtourists and volunTOURISTSEdit

In a study of volunteer tourists in Malaysia and Nicruagua, Daldeniz and Hampton, (2011) found that the key motivation of both groups was escapism and a love of travel followed by other less influential motivations, and identified these travellers as volunTOURISTS (with an emphasis on tourism) as opposed to VOLUNtourists (with an emphasis on volunteering). Indeed, the volunteer element of a holiday can be seen as a vacation enhancer through meeting like-minded travellers and exchanging genuine emotional connections with host communities, providing an unexpected but valuable volunteer tourism experience for the participant and the community.

Vanguards, Pragmatists and QuestersEdit

Leveraging the Pearce and Lee (2005) Travel Career Ladder, McGehee et al, (2009) conducted a wide survey of voluntourist motivations and segmented respondents into three typographies. Vanguards are the most highly motivated group, tend to be young, experienced travellers who proactively research their activities before booking. They are likely to choose most physically and mentally intense voluntourism experience. The pragmatists are mostly interested in a cross-cultural experience provided they are educated before the experience and safety needs are met. Questers are those who can spend the most money and time on a volunteer tourism experience, but are least definitive about their motivation for participating (McGehee at al., 2009).

Volunteer tourism motivationEdit

Self-determination theory is one method of identifying the relationship between type of motivation and autonomy (see Figure 2). On the far left, the amotivated who have no interest in participating and are not being sought to participate in volunteer tourism. Those with extrinsic motivation can be segmented into differing levels of control or autonomy over the outcome. External Regulation and Introjected Regulation can be seen in students who participate in volunteer tourism because they have little or no choice, such as for mandatory school credit or due to family obligation. Identified Regulation and Integrated Regulation include a combination of reward and choice. For example, a student who is passionate about the environment and enrols in an environmental conservation course which includes a volunteer tourism experience[grammar?]. The student has the extrinsic reward of class credit, but has pursued the course due to a personal interest. On the far right, intrinsic motivation has the highest level of self-determination. Volunteer tourists who are intrinsically motivated take control to pursue their interests, push themselves out of their comfort zone and experience personal growth from their participation in volunteer tourism (Petrovic & Stukas, 2021).

Figure 2. Self-determination theory.

There are many different motivations for volunteer tourism, [grammar?] the most widely discussed are altruism, cross-cultural education and self-actualisation.


Figure 3. Bolivian children and volunteer.

Behaviour can be described as altruistic when it is motivated by desire to contribute to society, help other people and do good deeds (Wearing, 2001).  Evolutionary psychology posits that altruism is more common in humans than non-humans. Empathy and pro-social behaviour are evident when animals protect their own (kin-selection), when animals work together to survive (group selection) when animals help each other (reciprocal altruism) and when humans help with no expectation of reward (pure altruism) (Kalat, 2019). This natural behaviour is evident in human infants before they are two years old. Examples can be seen when babies show happiness when giving treats to others or when they show awareness of others’ distress and try to comfort them (Sigelman et al., 2019).

Volunteer tourists who are particularly motivated by pure altruism are attracted to participate due to their cognitive awareness of an issue evoking feelings of compassion, empathy and interest (see Figure 3). This triggers the action of seeking a volunteer tourism experience. However, if voluntourists receive the benefit of travel, can altruism really be their motivation? There is extensive debate regarding altruistic motivation for volunteer tourism. Indeed altruism has a number of different forms which may uncover deeper motivations of travellers. Reciprocal altruism can be construed as selfish due to the expectation of received something in return. Whereas pure altruism with no expectation of something in return is seen as selfless (Wearing, 2001)[grammar?].

The distinction between a selfish or selfless act of altruism should be considered as it may affect motivation of the voluntourist to participate in the first place, motivation during the experience and long-term sense of satisfaction. For example, a university student who spent their summer holidays working on a biodiversity project in Kenya in exchange for school credit may have initially had reciprocal altruism motives. Provided they have other motivations which ensure they fully engage in the volunteer tourism experience, this ‘selfish’ form of altruistic motivation to contribute is no less valuable to the biodiversity project. Additionally, a traveller may have had no altruistic motivations when booking a trip, but during their holiday they become aware of a local issue and choose to volunteer in a local community project for a week. There is an element of altruism involved in all volunteer tourism activity, but it is very likely to be combined with other motivating factors.

Cross-cultural educationEdit

Figure 4. Voluntourist with children of Namibia.

On a daily basis, images of foreign cultures, distant landscapes and novel experiences flood our mainstream and social media. The awareness of cross-cultural difference and curiosity to learn more about unknown lands has been a motivation for travel since it’s[grammar?] inception. Indeed, travel is often promoted as contributing to international understanding, tolerance, cultural awareness and promoting global peace. Mainstream travellers may not be motivated by these factors, but some volunteer tourists are specifically motivated by the opportunity to increase cross-cultural understanding and global citizenship. The combination of voluntary work and travel provides greater opportunities for interaction and exchange between volunteer tourists and host communities (Raymond & Hall, 2008). Volunteer tourists motivated by this curiosity are attracted by opportunities to immerse themselves into a new culture or environment to gain an in depth understanding of a new world. They expect to be changed by the experience (see Figure 4). These participants are most likely to have travel experience or be influenced by social or familial travel experience, although this is not always the case[factual?].

Volunteer tourists motivated by the desire to learn about other cultures can still be challenged by the reality of their experience. Culture shock can be experienced when an individual finds themselves feeling out of place in an unfamiliar environment, and usually takes a period of time to process after the initial excitement has subsided. When volunteer tourists return home after their experience they may also experience reverse culture shock, a sense that people at home can’t relate to their new cultural awareness. Researchers have cautioned that the seemingly innocent cultural education motivation may exacerbate ethnocentric stereotypes or neo-colonial roles. Therefore, authentic and engaging experiences to interact and learn about culture are required to ensure these participant’s[grammar?] motivation needs are met without being exploitative of the host culture (Coghlan & Gooch, 2011).


Figure 5. Hierarchy of needs (Maslow, 1943).

In Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (see Figure 5), self-actualisation is the pinnacle of needs attainment, but can only be achieved after the basic needs of physiological, safety, belonging and love and esteem have been met (Maslow, 1943). Volunteer tourists may be motivated to seek out additional ways to realise their potential by contributing to the community abroad. The motivation to decide to participate in volunteer tourism may fulfil a combination of needs in the one activity. For example, belonging (making new volunteer friends), esteem (feeling a sense of accomplishment) and self-actualisation[grammar?].

The term eudaimonic motivation is the pursuit of self-actualisation and self-improvement to maximise one’s potential. Eudaimonic motivation is in contrast to hedonic motivation, which seeks pleasure and avoids pain. Hedonists aim to feel a particular way, whereas eudaimonists seek to be a particular type of person. However, pleasure can be attained by hedonist and eudaimonic motivations (Kaczmarek, 2017). Volunteer tourists can be eudaimonicaly motivated by a search to add more meaning to their lives and improve self-awareness by seeking out enriching experiences to realise their potential. These participants are motivated by activities that are challenging, unusual and specific to their goals, and tend to be less interested in group activities or social camaraderie (Kaczmarek, 2017). Therefore these volunteer tourists are unlikely to be attracted by marketing utilised by volunteer travel agencies, and more likely to find volunteer activities through recommendations or special interest groups.


Tourism is an aspirational activity, and as such some volunteer tourists are predominantly motivated by the excitement of travel and/or the adventure of going to new places and meeting new people. The yearning to escape normal existence of schedules, routines and deadlines through travel, gives participants the ability to experience an alternate lifestyle, allow themselves to be open to new experiences and the freedom to change (Wang, 2000). Compared to other motivations this may seem frivolous, however whilst these participants may love to travel, they also choose to include volunteering in their travel plans. These volunteer tourists are primarily attracted to destinations they want to visit, and then seek a volunteer activity at that location (Brown 2005).

Volunteer tourist experience

"I think there are a lot of people who are looking for new experiences. In other words, you can only lay on the beach so many times, you can only stay in nice hotel so many times and although that’s good and it’s good to get away I think people many people are looking for new experiences. Volunteer tourism gives you an opportunity for you to travel to have a vacation experience and at the same time take a small time out of that vacation experience and do something that is meaningful, and do something that last in your memory and do something that makes a difference."[factual?]

Take the quizEdit

1 Volunteer tourists only have one type of motivation for participating:


2 Intrinsic motivation has the most autonomy:



Volunteer tourism has drawn attention in recent years as an alternative form of tourism experience. Volunteer tourists “are persons seeking a tourist experience that is mutually beneficial, that will contribute not only to their individual development, but also positively and directly to the social, natural and/or economic environments in which they are involved” (Wearing, 2001). Knowledge of volunteer tourism motivations is valuable to help tourism organisations and marketers to leverage motives of travelers so that suitable tourism products can be offered according to their needs, wants, and expectations (Andereck, McGehee, Lee, & Clemmons, 2012). If volunteer tourism motivations are not understood and optimised, negative impacts such as being patronising and neo-colonialism can be experienced by the traveller towards the host community. Volunteer tourists who understand their individual motivations and level of autonomy are more likely to have a valuable, enjoyable experience that positively influences their lives.

  Want to be a voluntourist? Before you pack, consider this:

  • WHY you are motivated to do volunteer tourism?
  • WHAT interests and skills you have to contribute?
  • HOW can you ensure you get the most out of the volunteer tourism experience?

See alsoEdit


Andereck, K., McGehee, N. G., Lee, S., & Clemmons, D. (2012). Experience Expectations of Prospective Volunteer Tourists. Journal of travel research, 51(2), 130-141.

Brown, S. (2005). Travelling with a Purpose: Understanding the Motives and Benefits of Volunteer Vacationers. Current issues in tourism, 8(6), 479-496.

Callahan, M., & Thomas, S. (2005). Volunteer tourism: Deconstructing volunteer activities within a dynamic environment. In M. Novelli (Ed.), Niche tourism (pp. 183–200). Oxford: Elsevier.

Coghlan, A., & Gooch, M. (2011). Applying a transformative learning framework to volunteer tourism. Journal of sustainable tourism, 19(6), 713-728.

Daldeniz, B., & Hampton, M. P. (2011). VOLUNtourists versus volunTOURISTS: A true dichotomy or merely a differing perception? In (pp. 54-65). Routledge.

Everingham, P., Young, T. N., Wearing, S. L., & Lyons, K. (2022). A diverse economies approach for promoting peace and justice in volunteer tourism. Journal of sustainable tourism, 30(2-3), 618-636.

Gard McGehee, N. (2002). Alternative tourism and social movements. Annals of tourism research, 29(1), 124-143.

Grimm, K. E., & Needham, M. D. (2012). Internet promotional material and conservation volunteer tourist motivations: A case study of selecting organizations and projects. Tourism management perspectives, 1, 17-27.

Hartmann, P., Eisend, M., Apaolaza, V., & D'Souza, C. (2017). Warm glow vs. altruistic values: How important is intrinsic emotional reward in proenvironmental behavior? Journal of Environmental Psychology, 52, 43-55.

Kaczmarek, L. (2017). Eudaimonic Motivation. In (pp. 1-4). Kalat, J. W. (2019). Biological psychology (13th edition. ed.). Cengage.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396.

McGehee, N., Clemmons, D., & Lee, Y. (2009). 2008 Voluntourism survey report. San Diego: VolunTourist.

McGehee, N. G., & Santos, C. A. (2005). Social change, discourse and volunteer tourism. Annals of tourism research, 32(3), 760-779.

Nadeau, J., & Lord, D. (2017). Justice motivation and place image influences on volunteer tourism: perceptions, responses, and deliberations. Journal of travel & tourism marketing, 34(8), 1101-1114.

Pearce, P. L., & Lee, U.-I. (2005). Developing the Travel Career Approach to Tourist Motivation. Journal of travel research, 43(3), 226-237.

Petrovic, K., & Stukas, A.A. (2021). Volunteer Motivation. In Holmes, K., Lockstone-Binney, L., Smith, K. A., & Shipway, R. (2021). The Routledge Handbook of Volunteering in Events, Sport and Tourism. Routledge. Plog, S. C. (1974). Why destination areas rise and fall in popularity. Cornell hotel and restaurant administration quarterly, 14(4), 55-58.

Raymond, E. M., & Hall, C. M. (2008). The Development of Cross-Cultural (Mis)Understanding Through Volunteer Tourism. Journal of sustainable tourism, 16(5), 530-543.

Sigelman, C. K. (2019). Life span human development (Third Australian and New Zealand edition. ed.). Cengage.

United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme (2021). 2022 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report. Building equal and inclusive societies. Bonn.

Wang, N., & Jafari, J. (2000). Tourism and Modernity: A Sociological Analysis. Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Wearing, S. (2001). Volunteer tourism: Experiences that make a difference. Cabi.

Wearing, S., & Deane, B. (2003). Seeking Self: Leisure and Tourism on Common Ground. World leisure journal, 45(1), 4-12.

World Economic Forum, Travel & Tourism Development Index 2021: Rebuilding for a Sustainable and Resilient Future. May 2022:

External linksEdit