Medical Volunteer Tourism as an Alternative to Backpacking in Peruby Jane Godfrey, Stephen Wearing, Nico Schulenkorf

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Medical Volunteer Tourism as an

Alternative to Backpacking in Peru

Jane Godfreya, Stephen Wearinga & Nico Schulenkorfa a Management Discipline Group, University of Technology, Sydney,

PO Box 123, Broadway, NSW 2007, Australia

Published online: 16 Sep 2014.

To cite this article: Jane Godfrey, Stephen Wearing & Nico Schulenkorf (2015) Medical Volunteer

Tourism as an Alternative to Backpacking in Peru, Tourism Planning & Development, 12:1, 111-122,

DOI: 10.1080/21568316.2014.960602

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Medical Volunteer Tourism as an

Alternative to Backpacking in Peru



Management Discipline Group, University of Technology, Sydney, PO Box 123, Broadway,

NSW 2007, Australia

ABSTRACT 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. Semistructured 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.


In this paper, we explore the experiences of medical volunteer tourists (MVTs) in Cusco,

Peru and compare their experiences with those of more traditional backpackers in order to further understanding of the current alternative tourism market. Backpacking originally developed as an alternative form of travel for young people wanting a different experience from that provided by mass mainstream travel (Ooi & Laing, 2010). However, as the backpacking industry has developed and grown, it has been unable to avoid “progressive institutionalisation” (Teo & Leong, 2006, p. 110) and has itself arguably become “no more than a variant of mass tourism on a low budget” (see also Ooi & Laing, 2010; Speitzhofer, 1998, p. 982). In recent years, volunteer tourism (VT) has become increasingly popular and we therefore suggest that for Generation Y, that is those born in the 1980s and 1990s, VT might be framed as an alternative to backpacking (see Godfrey, 2012). Mustonen (2006, p. 174) previously drew similar comparisons, predicting that VT would gain popularity “among mainstream tourists who might have got tired of regular backpacking”.

Tourism Planning & Development, 2015

Vol. 12, No. 1, 111–122,

Correspondence Address: Management Discipline Group, University of Technology, Sydney, PO Box 123,

Broadway, NSW 2007, Australia. Email: © 2014 Taylor & Francis

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Medical volunteer tourism (MVT) is a niche form of VT and refers to volunteer tourists (VTs) volunteering in a medical capacity. Much has been published on short-term international medical volunteering (Bishop & Litch, 2000; Green, Green, Scandlyn, &

Kestler, 2009; Hoang & Nguyen, 2011; Magarik, Kavolus, & Louis, 2012; Martiniuk, Manouchehrian, Negin, & Zwi, 2012; Wolfberg, 2006), that is, medical students and qualified physicians volunteering overseas for relatively short periods of time. The volunteers are usually senior medical students (Hoang & Nguyen, 2011), qualified doctors (Green et al., 2009), or surgeons (Wolfberg, 2006), and these types of overseas medical volunteering are typically referred to as “medical missions” (Hoang & Nguyen, 2011; Martiniuk et al., 2012) or “surgical brigades” (Wolfberg, 2006). Conversely, in this paper, we use the term MVTs to describe VTs who are medical practitioners, medical students, or others who have an interest in medicine, and who are volunteering overseas in a medical setting. The term is used specifically because unlike medical volunteers where the emphasis is on medical work, the term MVT emphasises the significant role of tourism activities in the motivations and experiences of MVTs.