Travelling for a change: The new ethical tourism

Volunteer holidays and ethical gap years are a staple feature of university life and broadsheet travel supplements, and have become a rite of passage for ambitious young people with altruistic intent.  Yet this holiday humanitarianism is met with varying degrees of cynicism from many: tourists are often regarded as naïve, patronising or more interested in saving their own guilty Western consciences than genuinely helping people. Some even argue they are complicit in a new colonialism, which has been dubbed ‘the white tourist’s burden’.  It has been claimed that volunteer tourism’s focus on small-scale projects like digging wells and building compost toilets may actually be responsible for setting low horizons and stymieing the development that is needed in poorer parts of the world.  Is volunteer tourism driven as much by a quest for adventure and personal growth as it is by altruism? And if so, is that a problem?

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