Medical Volunteer Tourism as an Alternative to Backpacking in Peru

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Journal Article
Tourism Planning and Development, 2015, 12 (1), pp. 111 - 122
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© 2014, © 2014 Taylor & Francis. Medical volunteer tourism (MVT) and backpacking are both alternatives to mass tourism; yet, while backpackers simply aim to “get off the beaten track”, medical volunteer tourists (MVTs) aim to additionally “give back”. This paper examines the experiences of MVTs in Peru and explores MVT as an alternative to backpacking for Generation Y. Findings are derived from a case study conducted of a commercial volunteer tourism organisation in Cusco, Peru. Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with 12 MVTs and 3 staff members. In this paper, we describe what the MVTs did at the local clinics, explore the contribution they made to the host community, discuss the benefits the MVTs themselves gained from the experience, and examine the similarities and differences between MVTs and backpackers. There is a wide overlap between the demographics, motivations, and experiences of MVTs and backpackers: they are generally young, stay for a longer rather than a brief period of time, focus on participatory activities, and often view their choice of travel as more ethical than mainstream mass tourism. However, MVTs differ from backpackers, in that they attempt to make a positive contribution to the host community, while simultaneously benefitting their own personal and professional development.
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