We’ve covered the somewhat distasteful, but also interesting, trend of poverty tourism before, but this article in the Smithsonian Magazine does a very nice job articulating some of the more uncomfortable issues related to the idea. Poverty tourism is rather self-explanatory, but assuming you were out late last night at an Oscar Party and don’t have your thinking cap fit snugly to your head this morning, I’ll describe it.
Poverty tourism is essentially a way for people in the top socio-economic echelon of global society to visit and briefly sympathize with the world’s most impoverished people. Your heart-strings will be tugged, you will have revelations like “they’re people just like me!” you may spend some money, thereby helping them out, and then you will move swiftly on your way to some other local attraction and then onto an expensive evening meal where you will discuss with sadness and resolve how horrible it is that people (most people it turns out) live in such horrible conditions.
Yes, I’m being flip. To be honest, I don’t think it’s all that bad for people to get a dose of how the other 3/5 of the world live. It definitely can help your perspective. And I don’; think this type of tourism in general tends to be exploitative. The place visited in this article is the sprawling Indian slum of Dharavi, which, I have to confess, I visited myself as a tourist/journalist, a “slash” distinction I make to help myself feel better about being there.
Anyway, this all makes for a fine debate which I open up to all of you now to engage in: is slum tourism, or “poorism”, an exploitative or bad trend in tourism, or something worth celebrating? Or none of the above?