Poorism tourism: A highly unethical new trend in travel?


First aired on Q 4/06/13

Those seeking a chance to see how the other half live, can now pay to go on special tours of the poorest neighbourhoods in the world. "Poorism" is the latest trend in tourism that invites people to find authenticity in a destination by looking at its most impoverished areas. Some examples of the tours include a trip to the Bronx, Brazil's Favelas, the townships of South Africa and New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward. While this type of tourism strives for authenticity, some are coming out and saying it is unethical and exploitative voyeurism. 

The book Slum Tourism: Poverty, Power & Ethics details the booming trend of poorism and how people's search for new experiences is behind this new craze in travel that takes them to the poorest parts of the world. "As we get more and more connected...there's always going to be people who want to figure out something new that hasn't been done before and at the moment slums are still a new form of tourism," its co-editor, Ko Koens, told Q guest host Gill Deacon.

SLUMBOOK.jpgBut with the boom of this tourism comes a spate of criticism. As one of the critics of poorism, Koens says "it's a very extreme form of tourism and the main problem really is that you are really visiting people's living space and people's homes. In some tours, people just enter local people's homes. And that really makes it very personal and it makes it very difficult to do it in a respectful way. If you talk about people without people really knowing about it then it becomes hard to really be on an ethical tour." The way the tours are run becomes especially questionable when the tours are led with no interaction with the people and when none of the profits are put back into the community.

But as problematic as these tours are, Koens says there are ways to run them ethically. "It's not all tours to impoverished areas that are misrepresenting the area that they're visiting, several slum tours have won prizes for their responsible and sustainable tourism because they actually try to improve the local situations and they try to paint a different picture and show people that it's actually an area where people live." And while some people are motivated to slums via their quest for something exotic, there are still people who go because of ethical reasons and who want to see the whole context of a country they love.

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