Like me, you’ve probably seen in the media or heard from friends or family about humanitarian trips that schools organize each year. These two- to four-week trips are a chance for students to discover new countries and cultures while helping out local communities. Whether it’s painting a school or doing some sort of environmental protection work, agencies that specialize in these kind of travel programs blend humanitarian work with discovery, which is why this type of trip is increasingly popular with school groups.
These humanitarian travel programs and projects, often referred to as voluntourism, are a combination of volunteering and tourism. They are becoming increasingly popular, not just with young people but with adults, particularly the newly retired. People usually choose destinations on continents and in countries where the standard of living is generally lower than it is in the West. This often takes them to Central America, South America, Africa, and Asia. And although these trips require you to roll up your sleeves and stay in modest accommodations, they aren’t cheap. In fact, it’s often more expensive to opt for one of these experiences than to be a regular tourist. An extensive network of agencies and intermediaries have sprung up to fill this niche and it has become quite a lucrative market for many.
The Trend Reaches North America
Although the market may have sprouted up around voluntourism projects set mostly in the southern hemisphere, we’re starting to see more and more destinations in North America run with the idea and offer stays that combine tourism and volunteering. These packages usually involve helping those in need, protecting the environment, and event tourism. For example, Tourism Colorado’s website (www.colorado.com) has an entire page dedicated to voluntourism. Tourists who want to give something back while they sightsee can volunteer to help maintain and improve a large network of hiking trails in the Colorado mountains. Farther south, Arizona’s tourism website (www.visitarizona.com) has a section dedicated to justice tourism. Possible projects range from volunteering at sports events to maintaining hiking trails to supporting community organizations. A number of cities are also getting in on the game. In Philadelphia each year, residents and visitors are invited to help organize and lend a hand during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations. Over 130,000 volunteers help make this key U.S. holiday honoring the pastor and civil rights leader a big success.
Why Not Québec City?
In my work as sales manager for the group market, I’ve had a lot of success promoting Québec City as a culturally and historically rich destination. As the city becomes increasingly popular, I’ve been inspired to meet the demand created by the voluntourism trend and use it as an opportunity to support local initiatives that help those in need or simply improve the quality of life in the region. On that note, here are a few examples of projects for trip planners and groups looking to get involved with the communities they visit.
The Salvation Army, located in the heart of Old Québec, has a long tradition of helping those in need, in Québec City and everywhere the organization exists. The Québec City chapter can accommodate groups of 30 to 40 people looking to lend a hand. Tasks could include making holiday baskets, sorting donated clothes and toys, serving meals, helping send out information about seasonal activities, and even providing emergency services and disaster relief. I know I can count on the team at the Salvation Army to be open and keen when a group expresses interest in giving back while they discover the charms of Québec City. Located just a few minutes from the Salvation Army are Lauberivière, a multiservice homeless shelter for adults in crisis, and the Café rencontre centre-ville soup kitchen. These two organizations provide services, warmth, and comfort to those in need and are also open to having volunteer groups serve meals or sort donated clothing.
As in Colorado and Arizona, Québec City locals and visitors have access to a number of green spaces, some of which are located right in the city. One such green space is Parc linéaire de la rivière Saint-Charles, a park that stretches along the Saint Charles River from Québec City’s Old Port to Lac Saint-Charles, or Saint Charles Lake, the river’s source. Each year, the organization that manages the park organizes a dozen or so riverbank cleanups in partnership with community, school, and corporate groups. I think it’s an excellent opportunity for visiting groups to discover a river that’s minutes from downtown and the beautiful natural habitats along its banks.
For something completely different, Québec City also hosts a number of sporting events each year. These events rely on scores of volunteers to help things run smoothly. Volunteers can check participants in or make sure sites are safe for athletes and spectators alike. I’m thinking here mainly of events organized by Gestev, such as the Jamboree big air event, the Québec City Marathon, the Mountain Bike World Championships, the Women’s National Bank Cup tennis tournament, and the FIS Cross-Country World Cup. For the cross-country world cup, many locals and visitors—some from the cross-country ski community, some not—volunteered to help make the event, which was based out of the Voltigeurs de Québec Armoury, a success. At meals held in the Armoury’s spectacular Salle d’Armes hall, you’d find cross country ski fans from Montreal, Montérégie, the Eastern Townships, Outaouais, and several other regions of Québec who had decided to add a volunteer experience to their stay in Québec City. Other sports event organizers in Québec City and the surrounding area also rely on volunteers to ensure their events run smoothly, including the Québec International PeeWee Hockey Tournament in February, the Pentathlon des neiges that draws thousands of participants to the Plains of Abraham every March, and two new events, the Québec Singletrack Experience mountain bike event in August and the Méga Relais Labriski relay race in September.
Hotel Château Laurier Québec and Voluntourism
The managers and staff at Hotel Château Laurier Québec are deeply committed to making a difference in their community. We are a francoresponsible establishment that encourages the use of French and supports the artists and makers who bring this vibrant language to life. We have also introduced a sustainable development program to increase our offer of environmentally friendly services and we have a Green Committee, which I am personally involved in, to coordinate everything and brainstorm new ideas. I’m convinced that by offering voluntourism opportunities to groups and individual clients, our establishments (Hôtel Château Laurier Québec and Hôtel Château Bellevue) can have an impact far beyond their walls and improve the quality of life in our community.
It would be my pleasure to discuss specific programs that can be put together for your clients. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions!