So What Is Sustainable Tourism?

There were articles recently published that take a look at both the good and bad sides of socially responsible tourism. Yesterday’s New York Times highlights the movement towards so-called ‘poverty tourism’ or ‘poorism’ by posing the question of whether this was a legitimate form of tourism or voyeurism.

What I didn’t like about this article was that it gave a bad impression of what people to people travel is. So-called 'slum tourism' is voyeurism when it is just tourists riding in an air conditioned minibus, snapping pictures and indirectly interacting with the community being visited. There are many organizations that provide travelers opportunities to interact with residents in a poor area in a respectful manner. I have traveled with Global Exchange to Jamaica and South Africa and I got the chance to meet with people and organizations in poor communities who talked to me about what is really going on in their community and how they are trying to make life better.

I am also offended that this article implies that poverty only exists outside of the West, namely the United States, as if poverty is an "over there" problem. Two and half years later, victims of Hurricane Katrina have all but been forgotten by the US media and Americans at large. If you want to learn about the poor, maybe you should look in your own backyard...

Today’s Wall Street Journal, however, has an excellent article about the rise in Americans going on tours of small farms around the world that produce fair trade coffee and making connections about the need to improve workers’ rights in the developing world and providing environmental sustainability.

To read up more on the case for ethical travel, check out this month’s edition of New Internationalist.



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