Sustainable Coastlines and International Volunteers HQ tap into 'voluntourism' market

Sustainable Coastlines general manager Camden Howitt hopes the charity's volunteer projects give tourists an "awesome ...
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Sustainable Coastlines general manager Camden Howitt hopes the charity's volunteer projects give tourists an "awesome experience" they will want to tell people back home about.

Overseas tourists are paying money to help clean up New Zealand's coastlines and educate kids about conservation thanks to a "voluntourism" partnership between two companies.

New Zealand charity Sustainable Coastlines has teamed up with New Plymouth company International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) to recruit volunteers from abroad for environmental projects in New Zealand.

Started by 2015 EY entrepreneur of the year Dan Radcliffe, IVHQ is a volunteer travel company that has placed more than 50,000 international volunteers in community projects across 32 countries over the past eight years.

Sara Stuart volunteered for Sustainable Coastlines when the environmental charity was recruiting volunteers on an ad hoc ...
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Sara Stuart volunteered for Sustainable Coastlines when the environmental charity was recruiting volunteers on an ad hoc basis.

For the first time IVHQ is recruiting international volunteers for a New Zealand "voluntourism" program in partnership with conservation group Sustainable Coastlines.

Voluntourism is a form of tourism where travellers participate in voluntary work, typically for a charity.

The first international volunteer lands at Auckland International Airport on Sunday and modest projections are that about 200 will visit New Zealand to work on Sustainable Coastlines projects over the next 12 months.

International Volunteer HQ executive director Dan Radcliffe says community needs to be front of mind when developing a ...
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International Volunteer HQ executive director Dan Radcliffe says community needs to be front of mind when developing a successful "voluntourism" programme.

Radcliffe said he was happy to be finally opening a program on home soil.

Projects range from two to 24 weeks. A two week program, including accommodation, meals, project work and support costs US$770 (NZ$1161). A 24-week programme costs US$8360.

All programs have a US$279 registration fee.

The first programmes will be in Auckland with three types of projects; coastline conservation and education, freshwater restoration and education and non-governmental organisation support.

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Sustainable Coastlines general manager Camden Howitt said the non-profit had taken international volunteers on board in the past on an ad hoc basis which had been time consuming.

Partnering with IVHQ meant Sustainable Coastlines could focus on scaling up what it does best which includes coastal clean-ups, educational programs, public awareness campaigns and riparian planting projects.

IVHQ would do much of the marketing, recruiting, education and administration as well as ensuring volunteers' efforts were maximised in the projects they worked on.

"That's a lot of input and energy that we don't need to put in," Howitt said.

Visitors were picked up from the airport and treated as part of the Sustainable Coastlines team.

"It's like welcoming someone you would a new staff member.

"They're often young and they may be feeling out of their comfort zone."

After being shown their accommodation they go through an induction to be educated about how their work and project would make an impact.

Sustainable Coastlines outsourced accommodation and food providers during a volunteer's stay.

Howitt said breaking even would be an achievement but there was a chance voluntourism could return a "healthy profit" all of which would be reinvested back into the business to help achieve its charitable purpose.

Either way voluntourism would significantly increase Sustainable Coastlines' impact.

"At the bare minimum we're going to be doing a hell of a lot more this year than we've done previously."

If the programme was successful it could potentially attract more than 1000 volunteers to New Zealand each year, Howitt said.

Radcliffe said IVHQ was partnering only with Sustainable Coastlines for now so it could maximise the volunteers' impact.

Sustainable Coastlines was a good charity to begin with because marine and fresh water conservation was an important area for New Zealand to focus on, he said.

"There's nothing more humbling than having some foreigners come in and helping us clean our beaches and waterways and educating our youngsters on the dangers of pollution and climate change," Radcliffe said.

Voluntourism could bring both economic and environmental benefits to New Zealand.

"We hang our hat on this clean green image but actually making sure we deliver on that is going to be absolutely critical."

The nature of the Sustainable Coastlines projects meant volunteers would be able to see a tangible impact from their work.

"As people's mindsets are changing people no longer just want to travel, they also want to travel and give back."

The majority of volunteers would come from North America with the Chinese market also growing quickly, he said.

The number of companies IVHQ partnered with in the future would depend on the success of the first programme.

Tourism Industry Association New Zealand chief executive Chris Roberts said there was potential for growth in volunteer tourism although it was never going to be a major feature of the industry.

 - Stuff

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