Paying for proximity: touching the moral economy of ecological voluntourism
I met John in 2013 on a volunteer conservation tour to Montague Island, New South Wales, Australia. John, like many visitors to Montague Island described the location as a 'wilderness'. Working in collaboration with National Parks of New South Wales, I was working as part of a team project exploring the social transformations brought about by volunteer nature tourism. Within the three years of this project, from 2010-2013, we have had the chance to observe and talk to voluntourists, who pay around $580 each to participate in a 3-day itinerary on the island. Through open and semi- structured interviews with participants on the island, and follow-up interviews after their trip, we developed a richer understanding of volunteer tourism in the flow of life. Having observed nature voluntourist practices we became particularly interested in the role of touch in how people engage with sets of ideas about nature and nature conservation on Montague Island. John was not the only voluntourist who felt the need to touch in the moment of encounter with penguins. This chapter explores touch as a mechanism to disclose the moral compass of voluntourists in places were human touch is unwanted (see Figure 13.1).