Volunteer Tourism

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François Bianco, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


ATLAS Special Interest Group
Volunteer Tourism

The contact persons for this research group are:

Elisa Burrai and Davide Sterchele

Leeds Beckett University

United Kingdom

Volunteer Tourism has become an established field of investigation and practice. Over the years, numerous studies have approached it from a multitude of theoretical and methodological angles. These include volunteer tourists’ motivations (Chen and Chen, 2011); power relations between the Global North and the Global South (Bandyopadhyay, 2019); colonialism, exploitation and exclusion /marginalisation of certain groups of society (Bandyopadhyay, 2019; Butcher and Smith, 2015); the roles of different stakeholders (Coghlan, 2008); residents- tourists encounters and the impacts of volunteer tourism on destinations (Burrai et al, 2015). Recent theoretical and empirical approaches to volunteer tourism have showcased how the field, including the challenges and potentials associated to it, can be understood using complex and fruitful lenses applied from a variety of fields such as geography, psychology, anthropology and, most recently, development studies (Mowforth and Munt, 2009; Hollas et al, 2021). This is illustrated by the use of conceptual frameworks such as, among others, assemblage theory (Burrai et al, 2017); equity theory (Burrai et al, 2015); pedagogy of social justice (Henry, 2019); role identities and self-other relationships (Hollas et al., 2021) and collaborative consumption (Dredge and Gymothy, 2015; Everingham et al, 2021). In more recent times, the pandemic COVID-19 has magnified the significance of volunteer tourism as a vantage point for the study of broader societal dynamics, global inequalities and ethical issues. The evolving scenario imposed by the pandemic and by others global crises (such as climate change, poverty, migration) raises new conceptual challenges, such as the paradox of discussing virtual/online volunteering within volunteer tourism despite the lack of physical travel.

In the light of these research and practical progress and challenges, our Special Interest Group aims to:

  • Advance theoretical, methodological, and practical knowledges through wide inter-, intra- and multi-disciplinary research.
  • Stimulate and support transnational research and collaborations on volunteer tourism.
  • (Co-)organise and facilitate relevant meetings and webinars.
  • Enable collaborations between academia and the industry as well as other stakeholders.

If you want to contact the SIG coordinator, please fill in the form HERE

If you want to join this SIG, please fill in the form HERE


Annual review of activities 2022

This year we organised the VOLUNTEER TOURISM CONVERSATIONS series, held online and jointly hosted by the School of Events, Tourism and Hospitality Management at Leeds Beckett University and ATLAS. In each of these e-seminars, two different experts (or three as in the case of the second Conversation) discussed each other’s work providing cutting-edge insights into recent theoretical, methodological and empirical advancements in the field of volunteer tourism and international development. 


The Conversations attracted numerous delegates from a wide variety of countries, providing innovative insights and critical ways of looking into the field of volunteer tourism from a variety of disciplines and approaches.


The recordings of the Conversations can be found in the ATLAS YouTube channel:


This year we have also developed a call for a special issue for the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management on Disruption and resilience in post-pandemic volunteer tourism: rethinking theory, contents and methods. The SI is edited by Dr Davide Sterchele, Professor Kirsten Holmes and myself (Dr Elisa Burrai).


The deadline for the submission of the abstracts was 1st April 2022 and full papers are expected to be submitted by the 30th September. The special issue aims to be published by 2023.


Our special issue focuses mainly on submissions which enable for a meaningful, critical and innovative reconsideration of existing theoretical and pragmatic perspectives on volunteer tourism and the role it plays in our post-pandemic societies. Hence, in this special issue we aim to advance our understanding on how post-pandemic volunteer tourism relates and responds to the crises of our century. To this end, we question whether the resilience of volunteer tourism in a post-pandemic world can forge alternative and inclusive pathways for communities, environments and societies but also generate additional challenges and ethical dilemmas. At the same time, we aim to explore the theoretical and methodological innovations that facilitate a deeper understanding of the pandemic’s impacts on volunteer tourism practices and experiences.


Plans for the next year


Our plans for next year include the organisation of a special track for the next ATLAS annual conference (2023).


Considering the success and positive outcomes of the Conversations, we would like to organise one or more webinars in 2023. However, the angle of interest has yet to be defined.


We would also like to hold a meeting with the members of the SIG to exchange ideas on the future path of the SIG and collaborative initiatives which we might develop to push the volunteer tourism research agenda further.

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