Twenty-four American college students are spending today volunteering at Rotorua Canopy Tours today, learning about wildlife and environmental conservation.
Hosted by Canopy Tours guides, the University of Delaware students rebated a mix of Department of Conservation and Goodnature automatic pest traps, clearing tracks, and counting birds in the Dansey Road Scenic Reserve, a 250ha stretch of virgin bush near Rotorua, according to a written statement from Rotorua Canopy Tours.
Canopy Tours has noted a sharp 23 per cent increase in United State's guest numbers in the past month. US visitor arrivals to New Zealand rose by 6.6 per cent last year and recent figures project a 9.7 per cent growth in the next six years.
Paul Button, general manager of Rotorua Canopy Tours, said while the business often has volunteer support in maintaining its extensive pest control programme, it's rare for a group of international visitors to arrange in advance to take part in the actual ground work.
"This group are taking sustainable travel to the next level by actively participating in our conservation programme and spending some time volunteering in our forest," Button said.
"We seek to teach all of our guests about our forest conservation as part of our visitor experience, but for these guys to take it that step further and get off the course and onto the ground is truly to be commended."
Tour operator Haka Educational Tours has also seen significant growth from the US and is predicting a 25 per cent year-on-year increase with the University of Delaware group being the first for 2020.
Haka Educational Tours general manager, Eleri Williams, said educational tour groups are increasingly seeking authentic and meaningful experiences that give back to the communities they visit.
"Our teacher clients are socially and environmentally conscious and they're using the tour experience to teach important values beyond the curriculum," Williams said.
"Whatever the core subject area, the vast majority of our New Zealand tours now include service activities, such as beach cleanups, pest trapping or tree planting."
"This is a demand we've been only too happy to meet, as it aligns perfectly with our company values, and it's something we've been rolling out across our global destinations."
The college group are in New Zealand for a month as part of a cross-cultural communication paper focusing on happiness and wellbeing.
Dr Tracey Holden, Assistant Professor at the University of Delaware and faculty director of the #UDGlobal Programme, said she believes there is a difference between travellers and tourists.
"Tourists might take a picture of this or that and move onto the next thing, without connecting with a community or culture. As travellers, we want to enrich our lives with new perspectives, and bring value to the place we are visiting," Dr Holden said.
"We're all very excited to contribute to Kiwi conservation, as it's such a vital part of the culture of New Zealand."
Button said this visiting group are part of a rising travel trend which sees travellers actively seeking and participating in values-driven tourism.
"Values-driven tourism is going to be a key focus are in travel going forward," Button said.
"We're definitely seeing an increase in demand, particularly from the American market, which we think is closely linked to the way that guests contribute to the ongoing health of our forest by choosing to do a tour with us. Guests like knowing they've contributed to something meaningful."