Voluntourism and review websites highlights: ivhq reviews and abroadreview.com
Voluntourism Review platforms such as www.goabroad.com, www.gooverseas.com as well as www.abroadreviews.com and voluntourism companies are closely connected as they benefit from each other. For years there have been rumors that International Volunteer HQ is connected to one of them, the review and advertising platform www.abroadreview.com which contains plenty of ivhq reviews and comments. Finally, we were able to carve out some strong indicators such as same names and ip adresses. After reviewing our work, we feel that they are strong enough to proof connections. A good friend of the IVHQ Director and the review website owner are named Nathan Kelly. Both, the friend of the IVHQ Director and the review website owner come from New Zealand and hosted the websites on the same server with the same hosting company. Even so the review website owner was based in London, emails were answered from New Zealand.
We ask ourselves, if International Volunteer HQ might have run the page all along or the close friend of the owner, Nathan Kelly, has taken on that role? Are there connections? We are excited to find out the answer. You can form an opinion by reading the whole article:
The major voluntourism review platform www.abroadreviews.com has recently been for sale on www.flippa.com. The auction ended on the 26th of August, we have used this occasion to write about the review platform.
International voluntourism agencies and it`s connections to review websites
Volunteers should stay away from International agencies that lack transparency in their business operations, a common problem in the voluntourism industry. The financial statements, responsible volunteering guidelines and marketing content on many agencies websites are designed to hide, rather than reveal information so volunteers could make independent and informed decisions. Most volunteers assume that review platforms are designed to bring this to light so they can choose the best volunteer program. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Many international voluntourism agencies have close connections to review websites, some are operated and controlled by the agencies. Companies and local programs try to influence reviews wherever possible, which is also common in other tourism sectors and industries. This concerning trend, that harms ethical operators, has made it difficult to select a sustainable program based on review websites. These websites often promote programs for the wrong reasons: financial profit or sympathy but not a set of quality standards.
The history of www.abroadreviews.com
www.abroadreviews.com, which has often been associated with the name International Volunteer HQ, has been talked about for a while within the voluntourism industry. Connections to each other have always been denied.
www.abroadreviews.com contains no information about who is running the website and the premise of its operations. Many indicators seem to allude to the probability that some connections between the review and advertisement website and International Volunteer HQ exist or existed since the website was sold in 2011. So far the question about the owner of the website was raised on a regular basis but has not yet been answered.
www.abroadreviews.com has been registered and developed by Thomas Noonan who has built and sold plenty of other review platforms. When he went online with abroadreviews.com in 2008, he claimed that is was his mission to promote the site to help people to choose the right program. His mission die not last long as the website wasn’t profitable enough and other projects generated higher revenues. Therefore he decided in 2011 to sell the website for 25000US . By that time he already figured out, that review websites are a great way to make money. Thomas Noonan didn’t Initially expect that such websites would make tons of it. Well, it was so good that he is nowdays living from them.
At the time of selling in 2011 the website was already dominating the market with more than 700 reviews and a substantial amount of traffic. Today with more than 3000 reviews and almost 100 000 page views every day hundreds of potential volunteers are visiting the website through their search for a sustainable volunteer program. It is hand in hand with gooverseas.com, goabroad.com and volunteerforever.com one of the most important and influential review and advertisement platforms in the voluntourism industry.
Websites can earn huge amounts of money if they work with reviews. www.abroadreviews.com has grown, but not yet to its full potential. With a bit of work put into the website www.abroadreviews.com, their facebook and twitter page (which has never really been maintained at all), some substantially higher profits could be generated in the future and the impact on the market could be far greater.
The credibility of the review platform has been questioned before, as some well-known global volunteer companies pay a fee of 500 US Dollars to be listed as a verified program with the option to refute (comment) or to get reviews deleted.
IVHQ reviews and Abroadreviews.com: Important marketing tool of International Volunteer HQ
Right after the auction in 2011 of the website, abroadreviews and it’s ivhq reviews became an important marketing tool for International Volunteer HQ, one of the few companies that has been using this website within their marketing strategy by commenting to ivhq reviews and advertising on it. From August to now, the only voluntourism company advertising on the website was International Volunteer HQ.
In 2011 Sebastian, currently running this page and former development worker in Cambodia, was told personally by the owner of International Volunteer HQ Daniel Radcliffe, that he knows the person who has bought the website in that year. Sebastian did not see any connections at that time.
Public accusations and statements
When searching on google for ivhq reviews, the third search result includes another accusation from 2012, in which a blogger claimes that International Volunteer HQ and www.abroadreview.com are connected. The alleged owner of abroadreviews Nathan Kelly came public for the first time. The google search engine forced him to comment and deny the allegations.
He wrote that the website is in no way owned or associated with International Volunteer HQ or “any other volunteer or study abroad program listed on our” website. Furthermore he added that most reviews were from before the time he bought the website, which we have found not to be true. Just weeks after it was sold in 2011, it had already increased from 700 to more than 1000 reviews and that was only until the beginning of 2012. In addition, Nathan claimed in the post to live in the UK and would liked to prove that by meeting up with people who pass through London. In the end, he added, that this can be substantiated through www.gapyear.com if they intend to verify the ip of his posts. The reason www.abroadreviews.com is hosted by sparksinteractive, so he wrote, is that he is originally from New Zealand and plans someday to move back there. Finally Nathan admitted that registering the website with no ownership details was a mistake which he committed when he bought the page for 25,000 US Dollars. Until September 2016 it has not yet changed. There is still no phone number, no address and not a single name that verifies who is behind the website. The websites states (click on verified programs and what is this) that they are trying to fix the faceless internet. Unfortunately, the website is still faceless and we hope to hear from Nathan soon as to why this was/is the case. For us, the post is not convincing. This comment has been so far, the first and last time that an owner commented publicly, until the auction of the website started.
In 2012 a good friend of the IVHQ Director, Nathan Kelly, lived in London at the same time the website owner Nathan suggested to meet up in London. In 2012 the current Head of Risk and Sustainability Ben Brown, who also lived at that time in London, travelled with Nathan Kelly and the owner of International Volunteer HQ to South America for a leisure trip and enjoyed regular other private quality time together. Furthermore they all met 2010 in London with Nathan Kelly and graduated from the same University. Ever since they have been close friends, their connections date back as far as 2007.
Same IP Adress and webcompany
Knowing all this made us check the IP address of www.abroadreviews.com and IVHQ related websites ourselves. What we found were further connections. The website of abroadreviews is hosted on the same sever and through the same web hosting company (Web Drive Limited) as the IVHQ travel website www.volunteeroverseas.com. The same web hosting company was used by www.ivhq.com in the past. www.abroadreviews.com has been hosted since the 9th of February 2012 on the same servers through sparksinteractive, the company that also built the International Volunteer HQ website. The website and International Volunteer HQ are based in the very same city in New Zealand. On the home menu of the website of Sparks Interaktive IVHQ is shown in first position. Geovisions discovered relations between www.abroadreviews.com and a major international volunteer company which is based in New Zealand in 2012. When they emailed abroadreview.com, they found out via a reverse ip check, that the emails were answered from New Zealand.
Twitter and facebook connections
Also the website developer Hayden, who works for sparksinteractive, administrated the IVHQ website volunteeringoverseas.com and The IVHQ Directors company website www.safarireviews.com (the company is owned by the IVHQ Director) as well as other IVHQ websites and the IVHQ twitter account. Not only is Hayden retweeting posts from Safarireviews.com and International Volunteer HQ but also following www.abroadreviews.com on twitter. Besides showing personal sympathy towards International IVHQ he also ‘liked’ www.abroadreviews.com`s content via his facebook page in the end of 2012. Furthermore Hayden spent private time with Daniel Radcliffe and they are connected through facebook. Hayden „likes‟ the business facebook page of IVHQ, the abroadreviews.com business page and commented and liked other content that is related to Daniel Radcliffe`s businesses.
The abroadreviews.com facebook page likes only 14 other pages, ammong them only int. volunteer travel companies, countries as well as the New Zealand based charity Sustainible Coastlines. In 2016 International Volunteer HQ opened up a volunteer program in New Zealand in cooperation with exactly this charity.
The twitter page of www.abroadreviews.com is following 95 accounts. Among them are only three non commercial twitter profiles. One of them is George Coltart plus his travel company Travelstormer. He was responsible for the filming of the IVHQ advertising materials and joined Daniel Radcliffe on a one year filming trip around the world. The www.abroadreviews.com twitter page was supporting in 2012 George Coltart`s company through twitter feeds, posts and relating to travelstormers new website as “great redesign, team”. This is one of the very few tweets on the www.abroadreview.com`s twitter account that are not related to voluntourism. George Coltart is also living in London, studied at the same University and has been for many years friends with Ben Brown and Daniel Radcliffe.
Review website www.Safarireviews.com and IVHQ
Also the IVHQ related company safarireviews.com has not been designed to shed light to the equally messy safari industry but to promote businesses and to generate profits. Tour companies can use a similar advertising system as on abroadreviews.com or can pay 50$ for blog posts to “put your company as an authority in the industry, build backlinks, and attract traffic to your website.” Daniel Radcliffe is operating the review business from New Plymouth, where the IVHQ headoffice is based. Even so the review website claims to be independent and a response to a need for an unbiased platform with no connections to safari operators, it obviously has affiliations to some. On safarireviews.com International Volunteer HQ is advertising to combine safari tours with volunteering as many ivhq programs run their own safari opperations and can offer discounts.
The safarireview website was set up around the same time Nathan Kelly bought the review platform abroadreviews.com and includes also no contact or owner details.
What do you think?
Considering the amount of indicators, such as common names, locations as well as the recent statement of the abroadreview.com owner Nathan about the connections, raised more questions due its questionable content.
You now have to decide yourself if abroadreviews.com will be and has been an independent platform. For us, it seems likely that some connections between the review platform and International Volunteer HQ existed. However, to what extend cannot be proved at this point.
Further Questions raised
Other questions that were raised through our research is, how independent can research be, if good friends carry it out. In 2013, Ben Brown quit his job in London and started independent research as an independent advisor for International Volunteer HQ. He was contracted to find out more about the social impact of the company. In the end of the research trip he thanked IVHQ on his facebook account for sponsoring his trip. Today he is a full time staff member.
More to come…
We have found other companies with connections to review websites. It is not a crime nor forbidden for International volunteer agencies to own, run, sponsor or influence review websites but it raises questions about ethics within the industry and to what extent the consumers are being misled on purpose. We ask ourselves how far would these agencies go to promote their programs? What do you think?
Please leave your view below in the comment section and follow us here for part two about review websites.
The full research on this article, ivhq reviews and abroadreviews can be found here.