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Home arrow Communication arrow Leisure and the Motive to Volunteer: Theories of Serious, Casual, and Project-Based Leisure

Contributions in tourism

Holmes and colleagues (2010) note that volunteers within tourism settings are of growing interest. The research to date has been fragmented, focusing either on individuals volunteering in their community (i.e., hosts) or on tourists volunteering at a destination (i.e., guests). The authors synthesize the tourism and leisure literature on volunteering, and then critique the host and guest streams of volunteering doing so along four defining dimensions: setting, time commitment, level of obligation, and remuneration. These dimensions are refined based on interview data, leading to a model of tourism volunteering where host and guest volunteering are related rather than treated of as distinct. The simple host-guest dichotomy misses the shared and distinct complexities of tourism volunteering.

Volunteer travel, say Andrew Bailey and Keith Russell (2010), has become a substantial market segment in the tourism industry. Case studies have documented the effects of volunteer travel on participants and host communities. The purpose of this quantitative study was to determine the impact of volunteer travel experiences on the openness, civic attitudes, and wisdom of college participants and to elucidate predictors of positive growth in these intended outcomes. A multivariate latent growth model was tested to determine the nature of growth trajectories. Results indicate that the program had positive immediate effects on all dependent variables. In a follow-up assessment evidence of continued growth was found one month after the experience. Participants involved in leadership roles and those engaged in regular personal reflection demonstrated stronger long-term growth. This is consonant with the tenets of career volunteering.

Xinyi Lisa Qian and Careen Yarnal (2010a) investigated the benefits experienced by university students who in their leisure time volunteer as campus tour guides. Past research on the benefits of volunteering has mainly been oriented by the serious leisure framework. Although most studies support the framework, others have extended or refined it, suggesting that improvement is possible. Volunteering can be a beneficial leisure activity for university students, but few leisure researchers have studied the benefits of volunteering experienced by university students and fewer still have studied volunteer campus tour guides. Using participant observation and in-depth interviews with sixteen volunteer tour guides at a large public university in the Northeast United States, four types of benefits emerged from the data: psychological, social, instrumental, and communal. The results refine and extend the serious leisure framework in terms of benefits of volunteering. It also provides insight into the benefits gained by university student volunteers.

In a second article based on the same project, Qian and Yarnal (2010b) studied the dynamics of university students’ motives for volunteering as campus tour guides during their leisure time. Understanding the dynamics of motivations is crucial, since it aids recruitment and retention of these guides, who contribute to both the application and the admission processes. In this part of the study the sixteen campus tour guides were asked their motives for starting and continuing to volunteer. Five types of motives were identified in the data: altruistic, psychological, behavioral, social, and instrumental. The authors found that respondents’ motivations are dynamic. This is evident in helping university applicants, enjoying giving tours, and making friends, all of which became more prevalent during the volunteering process. The motives of contributing to the university and helping one’s future disappeared after the volunteering started, whereas personal satisfaction grew helping thereby to retain volunteers. The university administration was encouraged when recruiting volunteers to pique student interest in contributing to the institution, making friends, benefiting their own future, and having fun.

Kostas Tomazos and Richard Butler (2012) examined volunteering at a children’s refuge in Mexico. They explored the relationship between volunteers, their volunteering experiences, and the behavior that resulted. The authors’ findings revealed that the volunteers were provided with the opportunity to make a positive contribution to the everyday lives of the children at the children’s home. Nevertheless, the findings also demonstrated that the volunteering experience consisted of much more than the work duties carried out there, for the volunteers also engaged in tourist activities. Living in shared accommodations within walking distance to the busy tourist resort of Puerto Vallarta, the volunteers were faced with the difficult requirement of balancing commitment to their work duties at the children’s home (serious leisure) with the lure of more hedonic, casual leisure pursuits. This balancing act raises questions about the management of volunteer tourists.

Stephen Wearing (2001; 2004) has been at the vanguard of research and theory on volunteer tourism. Arguing that such activity is best conceived of as “alternative tourism,” he has observed in turn that this kind of tourism is best conceptualized as a special type of serious leisure (see especially Stebbins 1996b). In particular, he sees the benefits and rewards of serious leisure as “a fundamental motivating element for the participant [in that person’s] desire to assist communities in developing countries” (Wearing 2004:215). This is in contrast to mass tourism, which is at bottom of a search for casual leisure. Placing volunteer tourism under the heading of serious leisure also changes the definition of best practices in tourism. Under this conception best practice centers on what the (volunteer) tourist brings to the host community and how that community integrates this into its lifestyle.

Rosemary Leonard and Jennifer Onyx (2009) note, following Wearing, that volunteer tourism is increasingly being recognized as a distinct phenomenon, which needs to draw on an understanding of both tourism and volunteer motivations. The Leonard and Onyx study identifies the volunteering needs and interests of one particular demographic or interest group, the grey nomads of Australia. Grey nomads are defined as people aged more than fifty years who go in for an extended period of travel within Australia. They are important because of their potential to assist struggling rural communities. The results showed that grey nomads have a diverse range of skills and are willing to volunteer for community projects. Efforts to attract grey nomad volunteers will need to consider their diversity of education, the health limitations of those aged more than seventy, and the grey nomads’ desire to meet the townspeople and to learn more about the local area and its history. These results suggest that it is feasible for towns using tourism as a means to development to ponder the possibility of grey nomad volunteer programs.

Linda Cassie and Elizabeth Halpenny (2003) noted that understanding volunteer motivations for participating as tourists in nature conservation programs is an important element in the design and provision of such programs. For these programs are intended to harness the increasingly important talents and labor that volunteers bring to them. The authors’ goal was to highlight the motivations of participants in Volunteer for Nature, a Canada-based nature conservation program. The study was framed in a social psychological perspective and qualitative methods were used. The participants were female and male volunteers ranging in age from seventeen to sixty-three years old. The key motives for participating in the volunteer conservation vacation program included the following: (1) pleasure seeking, (2) program “perks" (3) “place” and nature-based context, (4) leaving a legacy, and (5) altruism. The study reinforced much of the theoretic literature already existing on volunteers, including that on volunteering as a leisure activity and that on the motives associated with volunteering. In addition, two unique subjects were explored: (1) the distinctive nature-based volunteering context and (2) the “value-added” nature of volunteering vacations. Links with concepts such as serious leisure were also discussed. An increased understanding of volunteer tourists who participate in nature conservation programs is the greatest contribution of this study.

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