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Profit from Organizing Tours to Poverty Areas Essay


Tourism is one of the largest contributors of economic growth in the world. This sector plays a crucial role in the development of economies by providing employment opportunities to millions of people and creating new jobs. There exist various types of tourism, which fulfil the differing needs of leisure travellers. A relatively new form of tourism is “voluntourism”, which is characterised by tour operators organising for tourists to visit disadvantaged communities in the destination country. Over the past decade, the frequency of this form of tourism has increased.

Guiney observes that tourism has diversified greatly over the past 3 decades and people have shown an interest in alternative options of tourism (10). Voluntourism and its various subsets have therefore emerged and thrived over the past few decades. Questions have been raised concerning the ethical soundness of this form of tourism. In essence, it entails tour operators profiting from showcasing poverty and depravation to the tourists. This paper will argue that tourism operators deserve to profit from organising tours to slums, orphanages and refugee sites since their efforts ensure the sustainability of these visits, which have an overall positive impact on the lives of the poor in the destination locations.

Defining poverty and volunteer tourism

The common feature in all kinds of tourism is the traveling to foreign destinations for leisure purposes. Poverty tourism and voluntourism are two subsets of tourism that involve transforming orphanages, slums, and refugee centres into tourist attractions. Poverty tourism involves tourists visiting impoverished urban areas such as slums and observing the lives of the inhabitants of these places. Other disadvantaged groups such as street children also form part of the attraction for poverty tourism. The tourists are shown what life is like for the most deprived inhabitants of urban areas in developing nations. Voluntourism is the term used to refer to volunteer-tourism and it combines leisure travel with some voluntary activities undertaken by the travellers at destination sites. Connors asserts that voluntourism entails the “utilisation of discretionary time and income to go out of the regular sphere of activity to assist others in need” (56). The voluntourists pay the tour operators to travel and visit the communities in developing countries where they can engage in volunteer work. It is broadly acknowledged that the number of volunteer and social tourists has risen and is rising globally (Butcher and Smith 29). This rising popularity is attributed to an increase in the number of people showing an interest in alternative options of tourism over the past 3 decades.

Tours to slums, orphanages, and refugee sites all make up a part of poverty tourism and/or voluntourism. In orphanage tourism, tourists from mostly developed nations visit orphanages in developing nations as part of their tourist experience. They engage in various activities while at the orphanages, including volunteering to do some tasks either with or for the children. In addition to this, the tourists are entertained through various performances made by the orphans. Tour operators work in collaboration with the local community members to organise tours to the slums. The tourists are able to witness the real living conditions of the very poor in society. Visiting refugee sites involve tourists travelling to refugee centres where they get the opportunity to observe the living conditions of the refugees and even interact with them.

Who are Tour Operators?

Tour operators are one of the main stakeholders in the tourism industry. These players play a significant role in the development of tourism. According to the World Tourism Organization, tour operators contribute annually over 25% of all international tourism travel (Aramberri and Butler 174). The involvement of tour operators is therefore significant in the tourism sector. Aramberri and Butler declare that tour operators contributed to the growth of the tourism sector by promoting mass tourism (175). These businesses are active in poverty and volunteer tourism.

Why Tourism Operators should benefit

The tour operators are in the business of selling services that are beneficial to both the tourist and the people in the destination country. They come up with attractive packages for people who are interested in gaining a first-hand knowledge of the lives of impoverished inhabitants of third world countries or helping the needy in other countries. The tour operators sell the visiting of orphanages or slums as a unique and special experience. Tuovinen observes that the tourists have various motivations for helping others and they include adventurousness and personal satisfaction (8). Individuals engaged in voluntourism benefit from personal development as they are provided with an opportunity to explore and learn. The communities in the destination country also benefit. The orphanages visited and the slums benefit either from some financial contribution made by the tourists directly or through the tour operators. Orphanages are the greatest beneficiaries of voluntourism. A report by UNICEF indicates that many orphanages in developing nations such as Cambodia rely almost entirely on foreign aid. Most of this aid is provided by the voluntourists who sponsor individual orphans or provide money to the orphanage. The tour operators connect the orphanages with the visitors, who act as the primary financial support for the orphanages. It is evident that the travellers and the individuals at the destination benefit from the tour packages offered by the operators. It is therefore ethical for the operators to profit from their operations for their actions benefit all the other parties involved.

Tourism operators deserve to make a profit since they play a major role in creating awareness about the various issues in the destination country. The world is full of cases of poverty and deprivation, especially in the developing world. Naturally, people in the developed world are not often moved to take action to improve the situation of the poor since they do not empathise with their situation. Tour operators play a significant role in removing this indifference by raising the consciousness of the potential voluntourists. Connors asserts that before individuals can be mobilised and encouraged to participate, they must first became aware of the issues and inequalities that exist in destination communities (154). Tour operators engage in this crucial step by presenting promotional material to people in the developed world. These operators hope to provide unique experiences for their clients by enabling them to visit areas where they can provide volunteer services or financial aid to the needy. They therefore look for areas that fit the required profile. Through the efforts of the operator, awareness is raised about the local situation in the destination country. People from the developed world learn about the plight of the slum dwellers, orphans, and refugees in various regions in the world.

Most tourists need other reasons, besides making a donation, to be compelled to visit a particular needy destination. Briedenhann declares that few people will visit a project from altruistic values if it does not interest them (489). Tour operators understand this and they make an effort to promote interest by the tourist in the projects available in the poverty stricken destinations. As business entities with stakes in encouraging tourists to travel, tour operators work to foster interest in the destination location. Tour operators are able to gauge the expectations of the tourists and ensure that the experiences offered in the tour matches these expectations. Tour operators often collaborate with charity organisations in the destination country to ensure that the visitors will be able to visit the poverty-stricken areas and make a positive contribution (Briedenhann 490). This working relationship is greatly dependent on the ability of the tour operators to source for visitors and direct them to the local organisations. The tour operator dedicates time and effort to marketing a particular location to potential visitors. This effort deserves some appreciation in the form of profits for the tour groups.

Role of Tour Operators in Promoting Sustainability

Sustainability in tourism means ensuring the survival and future growth of the industry. Briedenhann declares that the sustainability of any tourism endeavour relies heavily on market access (489). Tour operators are the stakeholders who work to achieve market access. Without the marketing efforts of the tour operators, visitors from wealthy nations would not visit most needy areas. They therefore ensure that tourism will not only develop but also continue to thrive as more visitors travel to the slums, orphanages and refugee centres.

In addition to providing market access, tour operators have helped to increase the market share of poverty tourism and voluntourism. When voluntourism first began in the 1980s, it was run by non-profit organisations. These organisations had the primary objective of benefiting the poor in the destination location and they did not seek to profit from their involvement in the operations. Connors notes that these non-profits were very inefficient in providing good experiences to the visitors (98). They struggled with providing a good tour experience and this discouraged many potential tourists from visiting areas of interest. Tour operators stepped in to tackle the inadequacies of the non-profit organisations. They were able to provide services including arrangement for travel documents, air tickets, and other travel opportunities at destinations. In addition to this, tour operators began providing discounted prices on tour packages, thereby reducing the cost that individuals incurred to get to and stay at the destination.

A case against Tour Operators Profiting

Some arguments have been raised that tour operators do not deserve to profit from tourism to poor areas. Lancaster asserts that poverty tourism encourages the destination location to maintain the perception of struggling in order to keep attracting donations (97). For a location to remain relevant to the poverty tourists, it must have poor people living in degrading conditions. If the situation is to improve, the location will stop being a novelty for the tourist and the tour operators will be forced to get a different location for the visitors to witness human suffering. Some unscrupulous tour operators have therefore encouraged their business partners in the destination locations to maintain poor living conditions in order to continue getting funds from the tourist. While it is true that some tour operators encourage the maintaining of poor living conditions, this is not always the rule. In most cases, the tour operators are genuinely interested in ensuring that poverty alleviation goals re reached. They engage the local communities in decisions relating to how the money obtained from the tourists visiting the area will be used. Gentleman confirms that a portion of the money raised from guided tours to slums goes to local charities that help the people in the community (7).

Profiting by tour operators has been condemned as being disrespectful to the poor in developing nations. In poverty tourism, the poor in the slums are watched and photographed like animals in a zoo by the visitors passing by accompanied by tour guides or in coach buses. Booyens asserts that this form of tourism is exploitative as visitors derive entertainment from the suffering of others (277). The fact that tour operators actually profit from such activities is seen as unethical. Booyens observes that in most cases, the tour operators are large firms that dominate the tourism operating industry as a whole (277). However, interaction with the poor in developing nations through volunteer and poverty tourism can have a positive impact. Lancaster notes that the interaction between the two leads to a dispelling of many stereotypes attached to the poor slum dwellers (98). By touring the slums, visitors see how hard the poor work to improve their lives and this dispels the stereotype that all poor people are lazy. In addition to this, the trips increase awareness on the socioeconomic plight of the inhabitants of slum areas in developing countries.

Another argument made against tour operators is that they prevent altruistic individuals in western countries from making direct donations to projects in the developing world by encouraging them to travel and physically interact with the poor. Sloat reveals that the amount of money used to finance the trip on average $3,000 (par.3). It the individual were to donate the money directly as opposed to travelling to the destination country and donating, it would make a significant impact on the lives of the locals. The profit motivation by the tour operators prevents them from encouraging direct contributions since they benefit more when the person travels. Tuovinen observes that tour operators are changing volunteer tourism into “a business that wants to make a profit, rather than concentrate on the host communities” (10). While the needy societies would benefit more if people gave a lot of money instead of traveling, this ideal scenario does not occur in the real world. Individuals are compelled to donate when they have witnessed the problem. Most of the tourists believe in the cause marketed by the tour operators and they desire to provide a service or donation that will be of value to the host community.


From an ethical perspective, it would be moral to let tourism operators profit from the tour if this form of tourism resulted in a general improvement of the lives of the poor in the destination countries. This paper has demonstrated that these tours promote the economic wellbeing of the poor and vulnerable in the guest countries. While the tour operators are motivated by profit making, their priorities are not purely commercial in nature. They have to prioritise the needs of those who suffer in order for this subsection of tourism to continue to thrive and grow. Chok and Macbeth note that while there are some demerits associated with voluntourism and poverty tourism, their benefits to the local communities are greater (155). There can be cases where tour operators use their position to maximise profits at the disadvantage of the needy. Aramberri and Butler acknowledge that the negotiating and purchasing power of tour operators today is ‘so great that the most powerful dictate business terms to their destination partners” (187). However, most tour operators who choose to offer tours to poor areas have a genuine interest in improving the lives of the local people. Chok and Macbeth assert that while tourism enterprise can come from real altruistic motives, the reality is that tourism is essentially, “a commercial sector driven by business opportunities, not an engine for providing social services to the poor” (156). It would be unrealistic to expect the private sector to provide the tour services without attempting to make a profit from their efforts.


This paper set out to argue that tourism operators should profit from organising tours to slums, orphanages and refugee sites. The paper began by acknowledging that there has been a boom in alternative forms of tourism such as visiting slums, orphanages, and refugee sites. It then highlighted some of the reasons why tour operators deserve to profit. These major players in tourism provide the market access needed to sustain tourism in poverty-stricken destinations. Even with the profit motive, tour operators still stick to the core mission of their tours, which is to help the poor. Considering the overall net benefits to the poor brought about by the actions of the tour operators, their profiting from the tours is both justifiable and ethical.

Works Cited

Aramberri, Julio and Richard Butler. Tourism Development: Issues for a Vulnerable Industry. Boston: Channel View Publications, 2005. Print.

Booyens, Irma. “Rethinking township tourism: Towards responsible tourism development in South African townships.” Development Southern Africa 27.2 (2010): 273-287. Print.

Briedenhann, Jenniffer. “The Potential of Small Tourism Operators in the Promotion of Pro-Poor Tourism.” Journal of Hospitality Marketing & Management 20.1 (2011): 484–500. Print.

Chok, Stephanie and Jim Macbeth. “Tourism as a Tool for Poverty Alleviation: A Critical Analysis of ‘Pro-Poor Tourism’ and Implications for Sustainability.” Current Issues in Tourism 10.3 (2007): 144-166. Web.

Connors, Tracy. The Volunteer Management Handbook: Leadership Strategies for Success. NY: John Wiley & Sons, 2011. Print.

Gentleman, Amelia. 2006. Web.

Guiney, Tess. “Orphanage Tourism in Cambodia When Residential Care Centres Become Tourist Attractions.” Pacific News 38.1 (2012): 9-14. Web.

Lancaster, John. “Next stop, squalor.” Smithsoniam 37.12 (2007): 96-105. Web.

Sloat, Sarah. 2013. Web.

Tuovinen, Hanna. 2014. Web.

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