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Commodification of Volunteer Tourism: a Comparative Study of Volunteer Tourists in Vietnam and in Thailand
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Professor Tim Gray
Coren N, Gray T
International Journal of Tourism Research
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Volunteer tourism (VT) has often been depicted as a means of avoiding the commodification of tourism (and even ecotourism) by ensuring that local communities benefit from the VT, both environmentally and economically, and that there is authentic engagement by the tourists with indigent people and their cultures. However, critics have questioned this claim, arguing that VT has become little different from tourism and ecotourism, entailing commodification by providing profit for VT organizations (VTOs) rather than for local communities, and consuming rather than respecting local environments and cultures. This study tests these claims and counter-claims by a comparative analysis of two VT experiences, one in Vietnam and the other in Thailand. The findings of the study are that while each cohort of volunteer tourists (VTs) exhibited elements of both decommodification and commodification, on a continuum of decommodification and commodification, the Vietnam VTs were closer to the decommodification node, while the Thailand VTs were closer to the commodification node. In part, this was because the Vietnam VT project was pitched more towards conservation research, whereas the Thailand VT project was pitched more towards vacation conservation.
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