I was looking over the Wall Street Journal’s Travel section and I came across the headline, “A Different Sort of Adventure”. Well, I’m interested in travel and am all for adventure. The core of the story was that wealthy travelers are looking for “alternative” holidays instead of going to the islands or the slopes and are choosing volunteering trips, retreats, and slum tours. Apparently, since the downturn, there has been a strong demand for ‘giving back’. Hum.
I’m rather disturbed by this trend. I’m all for philanthropy and making positive change in the world. I took a look at some of the packages. They look wonderful and I’m sure they are eye opening. And I would hope the trips give the participants knowledge and ignite passion to change the world once the holiday is over. I mean it feels to me like some sort of philanthropic petting zoo. Everything is planned and scheduled. It isn’t organic.
People don’t need to go on philanthropic holidays per se. They just need to open their eyes to see all that’s around them when they travel. I’ve had many eye opening experiences while traveling and I gladly retain them. A trip to Mexico many years ago stands out in my mind. I flew in at night and was driven to the hotel by bus. The road to the resort town was pitch black and lifeless. I took the same road on a bus tour. It wasn’t a lonely stretch of asphalt; the road was filled with shanty towns where women were washing clothes on the riverbank then drying them on the hot rocks. I watched begging children be shooed away by gun carrying men. I felt embarrassed by staying in my lovely resort hotel… like some imperialist or an ugly American. I vowed I’d never again go on any organized vacation where I’m isolated from the total experience.
I wonder if this sort of tourism is really helping. Is it keeping people in poverty? Are they being presented with dignity and respect? I don’t have the answers, but it is something to think about.