Volunteer tourists, often foreigners, collect essential data in wildlife conservation projects worldwide. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, international tourism activities reduced drastically, forcing many conservation projects to shut down. Using a nine-year (2013–2021) case study in Indonesia, we examine how local and foreign tourists construct the meaning of their volunteer experiences in the light of COVID-19. We aim to highlight the potential benefits of local volunteer tourism to face the travel limitations posed by COVID-19, and to show an example of how conservation projects can overcome the challenges of the current and potential future pandemics. We recruited 117 volunteers (49 Indonesians, 68 foreign; 73 females, 44 males; mean age: 24.2 ± SD 4.7) that collected 50.8% of the total amount of data collected by the project over the same period. Of the 117 volunteers, 81 of them (38 Indonesians, 43 foreigners) filled in a feedback form at the end of their stay. Via logistic regressions, we found that Indonesian volunteers declared more positive feedback on the logistics at the research station (p = 0.047). Via Bayesian structural equation models, we found that Indonesian volunteers reported significantly more frequently than foreign volunteers that they learned new skills (89% Credible Interval = 0.017–0.351) and that they gained personal wisdom, growth and maturity (89% Credible Interval = 0.891–1.003) from the volunteer experience. The volunteer program evolved from being 100% foreign volunteers in 2013 to 100% Indonesian volunteers by 2020 at the peak of the pandemic, which helped maintain the continuity of the research and conservation activities. We presented the positive implications of shifting towards local volunteer tourists in a long-term conservation project. We suggest that promoting local volunteer tourism through training new generations of nationals in conservation projects is key to guarantee the persistence of such initiatives in the post-COVID-19 Era.
El Bizri, Hani R. Dewi, TunggaHedger, KatherineMorcatty, Thais Q.
Weldon, Ariana V.
Department of Social SciencesDepartment of Biological and Medical Sciences
Year of publication: 2022Date of RADAR deposit: 2022-10-05