Voluntourism package helps travelers do good in New Orleans

Marriott International has launched a new "voluntourism" package in its New Orleans hotels for travelers who want to make a difference when they travel.

Tapping one of the fastest-growing tourism segments of today, Marriott's New Orleans hotels have partnered with two charities to allow guests to get their hands dirty, either rebuilding homes hit by Hurricane Katrina or providing food to families hit by the Gulf oil spill.

Marriott says that the package includes a dedicated concierge who will co-ordinate volunteer efforts, packed lunches, transport to and from the volunteer site and two commemorative tshirts.

The package is available in nine downtown hotels in New Orleans beginning August 3 and costs from $99.

Although packed lunches and commemorative t-shirts may seem like poor taste when dealing with hurricane victims who lost their homes, Marriott points out that nine million people visit New Orleans every year, and the city still needs help

“August 29th marks the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the oil spill has created a new challenge; but the city of New Orleans is resilient,” said Gil Zanchi, the manager of one of the participating Marriott hotels.

“Thanks to great partners [New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity or Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans], we can extend our company’s ‘spirit to serve’ philosophy to our guests and provide the opportunity to make a difference while they’re visiting with us because there is still more to do.”

According to a 2009 survey conducted in Europe, North American and Asia by travel site GeckoGo and guidebook publisher Bradt, almost half of the 2,481 respondents expressed an interest in volunteering abroad and 24 percent said that they already had done.

However, Marriott - and other companies well established in voluntourism such as Travelocity and Four Seasons - should take note of a finding buried at the bottom of GeckoGo's report.

The researchers found that 29 percent of respondents thought that volunteering had become too commercialized, citing concerns that the ideals could be lost and that not enough of the money spent goes towards the communities they are trying to help.