Teasing the boundaries of ‘volunteer tourism’: local NGOs looking for global workforce

Rebecca Frilund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Ongoing scholarly discussions on international volunteer tourism focus primarily on volunteer tourists as subjects and local communities as their near-static objects. This ethnographic study reverses that focus. Five developmental Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are explored as active agents that see tourists and travellers as a resource and a free workforce in Dharamsala's Tibetan diaspora settlement in India. These NGOs have found a unique way of increasing the volume of volunteer tourism by offering tourists and travellers accessible volunteering opportunities on the spot, particularly as English-language tutors for Tibetan newcomers. Tourists and travellers in Dharamsala are backpacker oriented and usually interested in Tibetan culture, representing a perfect target group for NGOs offering them meaningful encounters with Tibetans. This study aims to broaden the scope of scholarly discussion and conceptualization of volunteer tourism. It provides an example of how volunteer tourism could become an increasingly effective tool for NGOs in the Global South, in an increasingly equitable manner. It also demonstrates how the method found by the Tibetan NGOs contests the current critique of commodification in volunteer tourism. Within volunteer tourism, true empowerment of local communities can only occur when the locals are in control and able to set their own goals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-368
Number of pages13
JournalCurrent Issues in Tourism
Issue number4
Early online date11 Sept 2015
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes


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