Volunteering with elephants: Is it a way of moving towards global citizenship?
Keywords:international conservation volunteer tourism, volunteer tourism experiences, global citizenship, elephants, European tourists, Thailand
This study examines the nature of European volunteer tourists’ experiences at Elephants World, Thailand as well as whether and/or to what extent such experiences foster a sense of global citizenship among them. It used an interpretive paradigm and a qualitative research approach. The informants included 21 volunteer participants from European countries. A combination of semi-structured interviews and participant observation was used to gather data. Data were then analysed via a thematic analysis technique, revealing that the experiences of the volunteer tourists were a mixture of general wildlife experiences, experiences related to self-development, and experiences fostering a sense of global citizenship. However, the last dimension of experience was found to represent only the soft mode of global citizenship. Five main obstacles were found to limit the volunteer tourists to become the critical global citizens: language barriers, their short period of participation, the intention and willingness of the volunteer tourists to learn about the root causes of problems in the destination country/host community, the active participation of wider groups of local people, and the volunteer tourists’ colonial perspective. These issues should be carefully by host organisations and sending organisations.
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