Royal Caribbean Looks at Voluntourism

Most cruise ship passengers look forward to a week of rest and relaxation — of exploring new destinations; and of soaking up the sun on some of the world’s most beautiful beaches.

But those who enjoy giving back, even while on vacation, could soon have an outlet for bettering the community during their call on St. Thomas.
Royal Caribbean hopes to partner with the V.I. National Park to offer its passengers the opportunity to be “voluntourists” on St. Thomas and St. John, and the idea could become reality by 2011.

The idea was born out of troubled times, explained VINP Superintendent Mark Hardgrove.
“Sometimes good things happen out of change,” said Hardgrove. “With the economic downturn, I think they’re looking for new ways of inspiring tourism.”

Royal Caribbean representatives on St. Thomas have expressed an interest in offering excursions to Hassel Island, where its passengers would clean trails, beaches and ruins; and to St. John, where they would work on “front country areas,” said Hardgrove.

The VINP already has a strong “voluntourism” program thanks to Jeff Chabot, who organizes volunteer crews weekly from Cinnamon Bay Campground and Maho Bay Camps to clear and maintain trails, ruins and overlooks.

The expansion of voluntourism on St. John would call for more volunteer leaders, and could bring in more money for the VINP and the local community.

“As it is now, cruise ship passengers are taken from inside the fence at the Creek to Trunk Bay and back,” said Hardgrove. “They don’t get any time in town, and they don’t hear much about the history of St. John.”

Royal Caribbean passengers who choose to go on a St. John voluntourism excursion would be brought to Cruz Bay by tender, where they would meet their waiting taxi. After a safety briefing, they would be brought to a designated VINP site, where they would put in about four hours of work. They would then be brought back to Cruz Bay for lunch and to shop.

While it’s hard to tell just how much money the program could bring to the VINP and the local economy, it will likely benefit local shops and taxi drivers, according to Hardgrove.

Volunteers gain more than just a good feeling from helping out the local community, explained the VINP superintendent, who was struck by the relationships formed between volunteers in Chabot’s work party.

“What really impressed me is how these people form relationships when they work together and learn together,” said Hardgrove. “They start planning other vacations and cruises together. We have almost a cult at Cinnamon, who come back together every year.”

Hardgrove expects the combination of volunteering and tourism to take hold down island as the program becomes successful in the Virgin Islands. He urged those coming to St. John to consider volunteering.

“If you want to make a difference, feel great about how you spent your day, and learn something about yourself and your national parks, this is the place to do it,” said Hardgrove.

For more information on the VINP’s current volunteer program, contact the Friends of the VINP at 779-4940.