Past events

Tourism Seminar: Peter Smith
Monday 25 April 2016, 05:30pm - 07:30pm
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Royal Anthropological Institute / Development Studies Association Tourism Research Seminars: Theme - Mass Tourism


International volunteer tourism: decommodified moral encounters or a search for moral meaning?

Peter Smith, St Mary's University

Monday 25 April at 5.30 pm

In recent decades there has been a boom in international volunteer tourism, mainly in the form of the growth of gap-year companies. This trend has been mirrored by a burgeoning body of academic literature on volunteer tourism. Volunteer tourism is advocated as a form of ethical tourism and its properties are seen as further deepening the moral attributes of other ethical tourism niches.  Many governments and international companies see volunteer tourism as a ‘rite of passage’ for young people and it is encouraged in schools, universities and beyond. This commercial volunteer tourism has been critiqued by some as serving a neoliberal agenda.  For its advocates, volunteer tourism offers a moral alternative, offering an opportunity for ethical consumption of products outside the dominant market-driven framework of the commercial tourism industry. In contrast to commercial operations advocates suggest that volunteer projects run by NGOs operating outside the profit imperative of private business, can prioritise tourism development that is inclusive of host communities, maximises the volunteer/host interaction and offers genuine opportunities to explore moral questions. Some argue such an approach has the potential to offer a decommodified volunteer tourism product. This presentation argues that both the decommodified framework of volunteer tourism and the corporate-endorsed trend to encourage international volunteering have common justifications, namely the need to explore and develop the ‘self’ through engaging with communities in the developing world and the attempt to create moral meaning through individual life choices and consumption

Peter Smith is the Director of Tourism at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham, London. He is the co-author of Volunteer Tourism: The lifestyle politics of international development (Routledge, 2015) with Jim Butcher.

Before embarking on an academic career, Peter was the UK customer relations manager for a leading global student/youth travel company and worked in the independent travel sector for many years.

This event is free, but tickets must be booked. To book tickets please go to

Location 3