Volunteer tourism organisations that offer the most expensive products are likely to be the least responsible, new research claims.
The study suggests that price and responsibility display an inverse relationship when considering comparable volunteer tourism products, on a price-per-day basis.
Researchers from Leeds Metropolitan University also suggest that volunteer tourism organisations should be taking their responsibility more seriously especially in marketing their programmes to potential volunteers.
They sampled UK volunteer tourism websites and analysed their use of responsibility and price in their marketing to potential volunteer tourists.
The researchers developed a web content analysis tool to understand how responsibility in volunteer tourism is demonstrated, and rated and compared the organisations' content and price levels for comparable products.
Comparable prices were demonstrated to vary widely from £48 a day for the overall most responsible organisation, to £110 a day for the least responsible organisation in the study.
The university's Dr Xavier Font said: “It’s not entirely unsurprising that the most responsible organisations price responsibly, as they are transparent about their cost structure and income. The less responsible organisations tend to hide the origin of their costs, which can also hide excessive profit margins.
“We found that companies choose to communicate not what are arguably the most important aspects of volunteer tourism but what is easiest and most attractive.
“Some organisations were good in responsible tourism policies and conservation projects but were poor in communicating issues such as responsibility in childcare and other projects requiring the most sensitivity.”
Speaking about how the organisations choose to market themselves, independent consultant and lead author of the study, Victoria Smith added: “The status of an organisation is no guarantee of responsible practice - it cannot be assumed that a charity automatically demonstrates responsible practice better, or for-profit commercial business demonstrates responsible practice less well.
“The credibility that being an ethical business can bring in this market is strong, so organisations like to portray themselves that way, but it cannot be assumed they actually are.”
She added: “Volunteer tourism organisations should be taking their responsibility more seriously. Just because a product is volunteer tourism, does not mean it has positive impacts.
“In fact, due to the community integration that they can offer, it can merely act to magnify mass tourism’s negative impacts.
“These organisations have a responsibility to ensure their programmes have positive and not negative impacts and should offer financial transparency.
“It should not be sold like a holiday: this is affecting host communities' lives and livelihoods. This means proper needs assessments, appropriately recruited, matched and skilled volunteers working with locals, with clear objectives, sustainable programme management, reporting and lasting impact and respect.
“Online, volunteer tourism organisations must clearly demonstrate with evidence any claims they make, they must be transparent about their pricing structures and attribution and I urge them to review their web content regularly to ensure it is correctly communicating their level of responsibility, and is consistent across their web sites and congruent with their stated policies.”