Monday, June 9, 2014

When Poverty Becomes a Tourist Attraction

Part of the fun of traveling is learning about other cultures and lifestyles, getting a peek, however small, into how other people live, but I find myself uncomfortable with the idea of using modern day poverty as a tourist attraction.

My initial encounter with this voyeurism was actually in New York in the seventies. As it was my first visit to the city I took a bus tour which took us past the usual spots such as the Empire State Building, but it also took us through Harlem.

This was considered one of the highlights, a chance to get a view of this then notorious area from the safety of a bus window.  Which made me wonder, why take us there? Were we supposed to feel intrepid because we had ventured in? Be able to brag, ‘Yeah, I’ve been to Harlem.”?

All I can remember feeling is that the people on the street could probably do without the busloads of tourists gawking at them as they went about their daily life. Who wants to feel as if they are on show or being categorized as a certain type just because of the neighborhood they live in? Local businesses certainly didn't benefit from the influx. The buses only stopped at red lights. 

Back then, tourism was nowhere near such a big business as it is now and elsewhere most other tours went out of their way to avoid the poorer areas, showing tourists only the nicer side of the city. Now it seems with the increasing demand for new sights and experiences that poverty can also be a money earner for tour guides, but what about the people who are unwittingly starring in these new attractions? Is there really any benefit for them?

With the approach of the World Cup in Brazil, regular news items about the favelas have highlighted this issue. Blogger Loudtravels, who is in Brazil at the moment, links to a fascinating article on just that subject.  

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