Disaster and Ghetto Tourism

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The Travel Industry Dictionary defines ‘ghetto tourism’ thusly:

Travel undertaken to visit rundown inner-city neighbourhoods or ethnic enclaves, primarily in the United States and primarily by foreign visitors.

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus understood this compulsion when he wrote, ‘Many very rich men are unhappy, and many in moderate circumstances are fortunate.’

Whilst slumming isn’t anything new, it’s never been more organised. Ghetto tourism’s most recent iteration follows the traditional regimented group tour formula: get off the bus, snap a photo, get back on the bus. Intrepid participants may be allowed to pop into a pre-approved ‘native’ restaurant to sample sanitised local cuisine. (Not too spicy, please)

Some of the first ghetto bus tours began in New Orleans in 2006. The city was still reeling from the physical and political aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina. The city was still reeking, too: the whole place smelled like dead dog, or worse.

In an effort to ‘revive tourism’ some carpetbagger decided to charge people $40 to visit the Lower Ninth Ward to see the storm damage. Keen to local sensitivities, the excursions were branded ‘disaster tours.’
Again, from the TID:

disaster tourism. Travel undertaken for the purpose of visiting the scene of a natural disaster, usually with a connotation of voyeurism.

I swear tour companies will do anything for a buck.

Many very rich people signed up for the tour, expecting to find cheerful people in ‘moderate circumstances’ rebuilding their homes. O sweet Charity! O sweet Sympathy! Many very rich people returned stunned to their air-conditioned hotel rooms, shocked that the ‘fortunate’ didn’t stop gutting their homes or reburying loved ones for photo ops.

Slumming from a safe distance continues in ‘ethnic enclaves’ all over America. Despite huge protests from the Ninth Ward community, the buses kept coming, and continue today. (Editor’s note: prices increased to $55/person as of 2018) The infection is spreading worldwide. We can now fill our social medias with selfies taken in a favela in Rio, a slum in India or a refugee camp in Africa without risk of contamination, infection, participation. This revolting tourist trend even has a name: ‘poorism.’

Sarah is a blogger, writer and amateur palaeontologist from New Orleans. When not writing or digging dinosaurs, she teaches English.