Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change


International Political Economy


Volunteer tourism is a form of travel that combines traditional leisure pursuits with opportunities to volunteer in an organized fashion. The popularity of volunteer tourism stems from many factors, but the one motivation that appears in virtually every study is a desire for object authenticity, defined as the authenticity of toured objects, people, and settings. The purpose of this paper is to explore the role played by object authenticity in the motivations and experiences of volunteer tourists in the province of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Based on interviews with 62 volunteers and 15 directors, managers, and staff members from volunteer tourism organizations based in Chiang Mai, this paper argues that volunteer tourists conceive of object authenticity both as a package of cultural stereotypes focused on authentic people, and as authentic backstage settings where ‘real’ Thai reside. Aside from demonstrating that the desire for object authenticity is the central motivation for international volunteers in northern Thailand, this study indicates that the pursuit of object authenticity is complicated by language barriers, the potential staging of authenticity on the part of locals, and the need to balance familiarity with alterity in the carefully selected ‘voluntourscapes’ in which volunteer tourism takes place.