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Poverty Tours: Good or Bad?

Poverty is in the spotlight, and helping the poor, dare we say, is in vogue. With rapid technology, images of the poor and messages of needs are quickly and frequently transmitted by media outlets, internet, and social media. The number of charity organizations is growing rapidly. Heart-strings are tugged, curiosity aroused, and people want to get involved. This interest in the poor has extended to travel.

Touring impoverished areas of the world is fast becoming a global travel trend. Inevitably questions arise.

Well-to-do Westerners are putting down serious cash to see how the other 5/6 live. Is it just a little more than a voyeuristic excursion to see just how poor the poor really are? Does peeking at how the other 5/6 lives preserve culture or commodify it?

Is there a more compassionate kind of poverty tourism that puts more money into the local’s pockets and takes into account cultural and environmental costs of tourism?

Does tourism allow the community to have value rather than rely on hand outs from aid agencies?

Is poverty tourism fueled as much by curiosity as by conscience because poorer countries tend to be richer culturally? “Often, rich Western tourists are interested to see people who have a strong cultural and social ethic – which they often don’t have themselves,” Harold Goodwin, a professor at Leeds Metropolitan University in England and a leader in the responsible-tourism world says. “One thing that’s clear is … that the economic poor are often culturally rich.”

Can there be a happy medium of real tourism and education that does not exploit the host country and its people nor make the visitor a symbol of encroachment?

Travel, we believe, is ultimately about relationships and the good ones are called friendships. If friendships are formed, then one has traveled well!

Read the full article at Christian Science Monitor

photo credit: christian science monitor

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