Voluntourism at sea

Spring break, senior year of college—I was divided. Would I spend my week volunteering in a school on an Indian reservation or sunbathing on a cruise to California? I chose the cruise. The more selfish option, per say, but could I really have had the best of both worlds? 


Recently, the Florida-based Carnival Cruise Lines has announced a new cruise that will have a more humanitarian purpose in the Caribbean. So aside from white sand beaches, piña coladas, and the great weather, guests will be encouraged to take part in ‘social impact’ excursions after a one-and-a-half day sail to the Dominican Republic. In which they can participate in volunteer projects ranging from English teaching and making artisanal chocolates with a local women’s co-op. The 7-day cruise will offer Spanish conversational workshops and light training to prepare the guests for their excursion activities.


With the hope of attracting a new demographic of tourists to its boats, this cruise will provide a short-term option for those who are unable to make a long-term commitment, as well as serving as a great way to spread awareness of conditions in the poorer nations in the Caribbean. The cruise can offer a great way to draw in potential longer terms volunteers from its short 'taster' trips.


As ideal as this might sound, the profitable voluntourism industry compels us to believe that this new initiative might not have the most humanitarian motives. “The market for this type of travel is big, growing and passionate,” Carnival said in the statement released by the company, highlighting that this may be yet another volun-tourism model to enter an already saturated market.  As VOFAIR has asserted before, volunteering is most effective when done as a long-term commitment. Spending a few hours on a ‘social impact’ excursion might provide one with the illusion that they are making a difference in marginalized communities, as well as actively creating inequality and exclusion for residents of the visited communities.


Take teaching English abroad for example; when there is no training or long-term commitment involved, students will miss that vital bond with their instructors to progress and diversify learning styles, as well as creating meaningful long-term connections with students. Despite the training that is promised to be provided on the cruise, VOFAIR has researched the ineffectiveness of teaching English abroad with little to no training and found that ‘authenticity’ does not outshine professional training.


Will this new flood of voluntourists in the Dominican Republic reduce job opportunities for the 14.7% of unemployed locals? Will the new English teaching initiative make a difference in education in a country where only 58% of males and 67% of females are enrolled in secondary school? While one cannot doubt the altruism that would compel the potential volunteers, they must remain mindful of the fact that this is not a charity led initiative, but one driven by the prospect of financial gain.


Currently, the Telegraph's poll of interest puts the volun-cruise approval rating at 64%.

And who knows—this new initiative could be a groundbreaking model in international development. However, given our current research and knowledge, we are not yet convinced that real social change will materialize thanks to Carnival Cruises.