Amman, Jordan - The Kingdom of Jordan may be able to tap a wealth of cultural assets through “voluntourism", according to tourism industry experts.
David Clemmons, an expert on the niche market and editor of the e-trade publication Voluntourist, said the concept caters to those who would like to leave a lasting impact on the community they visit.
“It wasn’t until voluntourism that we as travellers could express our gratitude,” Clemmons told The Jordan Times.
“There is a need not only to take something back home, but to leave something behind, to leave a piece of the traveler. This is where we see this market heading,” he said.
The concept originated with Western backpackers staying with families in South America and looking for ways to help the local community, according to industry leaders.
Over the past decade, the voluntourism market has grown, with tourists engaging in volunteer activities on all five continents, ranging from building local schools to aiding in harvests.
The 2009 Forecast Poll by Travelocity.com revealed that 13 percent of travelers planned on including volunteer service as a part of their leisure itineraries last year.
According to Clemmons, Jordan has a culture of “hospitality” that can be marketed to facilitate several different types of voluntourism exchanges, and raise the Kingdom's profile as a stand-alone destination. The types of activities offered, however, NGOs have to determine, he added.
During a seminar sponsored by the Jordan Inbound Tour Operators Association (JITOA) gathering NGOs and tour operators on Thursday, Rabee Zureikat highlighted the success of his initiative, “Zikra”, in fostering cultural exchange.
Other long-standing initiatives include the Iraq Al Amir women’s cooperative and Bani Hamida, where cultural products are ready to be marketed. Others, such as the Al Ayoun Trail, developed by the Tourism Ministry and local municipalities in Ajloun, utilise hiking and natural scenery to facilitate encounters with local residents.
Brother Andrew, director of the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf, underlined that institutions whose sole focus is non-cultural may provide opportunities for “volunteering”.
Industry stakeholders mostly agreed that although there is potential in Jordanian voluntourism, this type of tourist offering needs to be developed to be presented to tourists looking to plan their holiday.
Wendy Botham, director of Petra Moon Tourism Services, said NGOs need to develop and showcase products so that operators will know what to market to consumers.
“We have the opportunity to start from the ground up and develop professional products to offer visitors,” she noted.
NGOs underlined a need for training on how to take advantage of their services and involve foreign visitors.
NGOs lack the business savvy, product development and pricing mechanisms that tend to be common knowledge in the private sector, while operators may not be as aware of local cultural assets and opportunities for exchange as organisations well-immersed in the community, according to Clemmons.
As part of an effort to introduce the niche market to the sector, JITOA sponsored a field trip to various initiatives on Friday, and held several seminars by Clemons for both NGOs and tour operators.
The seminars are part of the EU/Jordan Service Modernisation Programme.
In its second phase, JITOA intends to meet with NGOs in order to present activities to tour operators and develop a web portal showcasing NGOs' services, opportunities and schedules of events, according to JITPA CEO Nizar Adarbeh.
He said JITOA is looking to develop a code of conduct and guidelines for tourists, tour operators and NGOs on voluntourism in order to promote best practices in the nascent sector.
With the interest of industry operators and NGOs “piqued”, he expressed hope that the voluntourism concept will take root in the Kingdom soon.
“We are just at the beginning, and we need to give a helping hand to support good causes in Jordan,” he said.
Clemmons agreed. “Through voluntourism you can open up the heart of a traveller and open up the heart of a destination,” he said.