I was extremely surprised when I came across this article the other day, talking about tourists paying to go on a simulation of a Mexico-USA border crossing. The participants pay a relatively small fee (one is cited as 15 USD) to race after mock human traffickers without food or water. The slow ones are captured by “border patrol vans” and “deported”. For me this rang a similar note to Favela Tours in Brazil, which I have been hearing a lot about lately. A guide leads tourist groups through Brazilian slums, or favelas, which are normally considered fairly dangerous and inaccessible for nonlocals. The guide will often have deals with local drug lord or cartels to negotiate safe passage.

photo by kassá

photo by kassá

This sort of tourism is a double edged sword for me. It’s interesting to see travelers seeking to engage more with a location, instead of sitting at disconnected luxury resorts. The favela tour website above claims that its mission is to show people the real inhabitants and life of the favelas and disprove stereotypes of them as violent, drug ridden shanty towns. However, I think it’s impossible to avoid realizing this as a commodification and tourism of poverty. It is reasonable for people from more privileged nations who don’t regularly see poverty to want a better understanding, but there are many other ways to get involved. In order to have access to some of these lands and communities, tours must pay off cartels and gang leaders and so your money may inadvertantly go to support something you didn’t expect. A good alternative is to volunteer for an organization in another country. Often you pay little or nothing and may be provided some room and board, while getting a chance to live in a place and make real connections to people and organizations focused on really helping the community. For some resources check out Katja’s post about volunteering abroad.

What do you think about these “poverty tours”? Are they more positive or negative?

post by Jackie Clark

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...