Tourism Revelstoke embraces ‘voluntourism’ with experimental new campaign

On Aug. 31, Tourism Revelstoke announced their Thanksgiving Back campaign. From Sept. 25 to Sept. 26 and Oct. 2 to Oct. 3, the initiative offers accommodation rebates to visitors who participate in local volunteer projects.

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Tourism Revelstoke's newest pushes visitors to dig deeper into Revelstoke through volunteering. Photo: Tourism Revelstoke

In an experimental initiative to boost visitation this fall, Tourism Revelstoke is offering accommodation rebates to visitors who participate in local volunteer projects.

From Sept. 25 to Sept. 26 and Oct. 2 to Oct. 3, Tourism Revelstoke is hosting the first Thanksgiving Back campaign. To participate, prospective visitors complete an online form indicating their interest in a volunteer project. After completing eight hours of volunteer work, visitors are eligible for a $500 rebate on participating accommodations.

According to Robyn Goldsmith, brand and content manager at Tourism Revelstoke, this altruistic marketing campaign has a “three-fold” goal for tourism: attracting visitors, building deeper connections, and promoting local non-profits.

“The pandemic has given us an opportunity to rethink and reset a little bit, and people are looking for broader tourism experiences. From what we’ve seen, people are tending to look for a closer connection with the destinations they visit,” explains Goldsmith, adding that volunteering offers visitors a “closer connection with the essence of Revelstoke.”

In recent years, the term “voluntourism” has emerged to describe the combination of travel and service. Potential projects for Revelstoke “voluntourists” include:

● Vegetation restoration with the Columbia Shuswap Invasive Species Society.
● Trail work with the Revelstoke Cycling Association.
● Assistance with LUNA Reimagined 2021 for Arts Revelstoke.
● Brushing and trail preparation for the Revelstoke Nordic Ski Club.
● Working with the Revelstoke Railway Museum.
● Assisting with Kokanee Fish Fest for Wildsight Revelstoke.

Getting dirty with the Revelstoke Cycling Association is one way visitors can earn a $500 rebate on accommodations. Photo: Tourism Revelstoke

Tourism Revelstoke explains reasoning and funding behind “voluntourism” incentives

Although paying visitors to volunteer in Revelstoke might raise alarms for some residents, Tourism Revelstoke emphasizes that this campaign does not affect funding for local initiatives.

As explained by Goldsmith, the Thanksgiving Back campaign uses funding from the municipal and regional district tax (MRDT). Charged to visitors by hotels and other accommodation providers, the MRDT is “directed towards supporting destination marketing organizations and destination management,” according to Goldsmith.

“There is not really an opportunity for us to take that funding stream and directly pay locals to be doing these things [volunteer projects]. We have limitations on how we spend our funding,” she elaborates, adding that this campaign is Tourism Revelstoke’s creative way of redirecting money to local organizations. Participating non-profits will also receive donations to cover project management costs.

“This is not funding that’s being diverted from a local initiative to attract visitors. It’s funding to attract visitors that is being put into local causes,” she clarifies.

Looking forward to the results of an experimental campaign

Tourism Revelstoke has blended traditional marketing with community altruism for previous campaigns, including Ten for the Trails and Take Out Revy. However, Goldsmith notes that offering financial incentives to voluntourists is an experimental marketing strategy.

“It’s our first year and it’s very novel. There’s nothing else like this that I’m aware of happening in B.C.,” Goldsmith says, offering more background on the development of this idea. She was initially inspired by a New Zealand initiative that brings tourists on week-long invasive species management projects.

While Goldsmith is excited to see this campaign unfold, she notes the uncertainty of introducing new marketing tactics. According to Goldsmith, Tourism Revelstoke will “try to get as much information and results of the project as possible” for another update after the campaign concludes on Oct. 3.

Sign-up for Thanksgiving Back is available through seerevelstoke.com, along with the latest updates on the initiative.