I came across the term "poorism" when looking for articles about alternative ways of traveling. Poverty tourism or poorism is a type of tourism, much akin to slumming, in which tourists travel to less developed places to observe people living in poverty.
Poorism travel tours are popular in places like India, Ethiopia, and even places that have had natural disasters such as hurricanes and tsunamis. After Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana became a big poorism site.
Critics say poorism is likened to a kind of voyeurism, exploiting people less fortunate, snapping pictures and leaving nothing in return. Some poorism tours do use portions of the profits to help out however.
I came across an interesting article by John Lancaster for Smithsonian Magazine. Here is an excerpt :
Next Stop, Squalor
Is poverty tourism "poorism," they call it exploration or exploitation?
By John Lancaster
Smithsonian magazine, March 2007
The Dharavi squatter settlement in Mumbai is often described as the biggest slum in Asia. It sits between two rail lines in the northern part of the city, on a creek that once sustained a thriving fishery. The creek is now a sump of sewage and industrial waste, and the air above Dharavi is foul.
By one estimate, the slum is home to 10,000 small factories, almost all of them illegal and unregulated. The factories provide sustenance of a sort to the million or so people who are thought to live in Dharavi, which at 432 acres is barely half the size of New York City's Central Park. There is no discernible garbage pickup, and only one toilet for every 1,440 people. It is a vision of urban hell.
It is also one of India's newest tourist attractions. Since January of last year, a young British entrepreneur, Christopher Way, and his Indian business partner, Krishna Poojari, have been selling walking tours of Dharavi as if it were Jerusalem's walled city or the byways of Dickens' London. There seems to be a market for this sort of thing: almost every day during the recent December holidays, small groups of foreign travelers, accompanied by Poojari or another guide, tramped through Dharavi's fetid alleys in a stoic quest for...What? Enlightenment? Authenticity? The three-hour excursions are slated for mention in a forthcoming Lonely Planet guide, and they cost about $6.75 a head—more if you want to go to Dharavi by air-conditioned car.
Poverty tourism—sometimes known as "poorism"—did not originate in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). For years, tour operators have been escorting foreign visitors through Rio de Janeiro's infamous favelas, with their drug gangs and ocean views, and the vast townships outside Cape Town and Johannesburg, where tourists are invited to mix with South Africans at one of the illicit beer halls known as shebeens. A nonprofit group in New Delhi charges tourists for guided walks through the railway station, to raise money for the street children who haunt its platforms.
But the Dharavi tours have been especially controversial. In a lengthy report last September, the Indian English-language Times Now television channel attacked them as an exercise in voyeurism and a sleazy bid to "cash in on the Ôpoor-India' image." That report was followed by a panel discussion in which the moderator all but accused Poojari of crimes against humanity. "If you were living in Dharavi, in that slum, would you like a foreign tourist coming and walking all over you?" he sputtered. "This kind of slum tourism, it is a clear invasion of somebody's privacy....You are treating humans like animals." A tourism official on the panel called the tour operators "parasites [who] need to be investigated and put behind bars," and a state lawmaker has threatened to shut them down.
The critics, it seemed, had claimed the moral high ground. But could they hold it?
[to be continued]