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donor tourism

The blurring of charity and commercial slum tourism

Thinking back of the last post on slumtourism regarding “donor tourism”, I was reminded of an animated discussion I had with a tour guide in the townships in South Africa. The guide argued that local schools that hosted tourists were being “ripped off” by tour operators. He felt that the chairs, tables and/or (note)books that tour operators hand out are too little for the benefits that they gain from visiting these schools. Particularly as these tour operators have been relatively vocal about their charitable efforts.

Whether or not the tour guide was correct, this is obviously a case of a commercial enterprise engaging in some form of charity. Indeed such actions are quite common among slum tourism tour operators, most of which stress their investments in the local community.

At the other end of the spectrum are tours and other activities that are set up and/or run by charitable organisations. These use tourism to gain additional additional income for their work. A number of volunteer tourism organisations also are set up as NGOs and are primarily reliant on tourists to support the organisation.  In a way the aforementioned “donor tourism” may also be seen as belonging in this category. Even though the tours themselves may not be used to gain additional income for the charity here, they are used to ensure donors get a more lasting connection with the charity thus continuing to give (financial) support.

Whilst I have not done a close analysis of such organisations as they are involved in slum tourism, I have noticed how these forms of tourism appear to be more and more merging. Commercial tour operators are getting increasingly involved in charitable practices as part of their corporate social responsibility programmes, while NGOs appear to be more and more take a commercial approach. In a way the two may now at times even be competing with each other. This is an interesting development, albeit one that may make it more difficult for tourists to discern between different forms of slum tourism.

“Donor Tourism”: a new form of slum tourism?

It would seem that a new addition can be made to the  the ever-expanding world of poverty and slum tourism. The following article in English newspaper the Guardian discusses package tours that are organised by NGOs and labels it as “Donor Tourism”.

It provides a discussion of the reasons why (international) NGOs seem to have started to actively use specialist travel agencies to organise group donor trips to poverty stricken areas. In the end they note  ”development agencies realise that to build lasting connections between donors and their beneficiaries, increasingly the donor needs to get something back”.

This is an interesting observation as it suggests donors are more and more seen as clients that have a right to expect something back rather than supporting  relief organisations on a more intrinsic altruistic basis. The article also reflects on the worries of those working in emergency relief who in general appear to be unhappy with “Donor tourism”. A further critical discussion is given by Matt Muspratt on his Blog, where he highlights the dangers of such tours for further emphasising people’s gaze of Africa as that of a charity case. As Chimamanda Adichie so eloquently points out such a single narrative can create incomplete stereotypes of impoverished areas and rob people of dignity.

Given this critique, it will be interesting to see how “Donor Tourism” develops and to what extend it will establish itself as a new form of poverty or slum tourism.