Charity Tourism

27 09 2010

I was faced with a dilemma in deciding the title for this weeks blog. The issue that I want to raise is the proliferation of overseas jaunts purporting to be in aid of charity.

We are used to seeing celebrities swanning off to Africa in order to be filmed chatting to locals and aid workers in a famine ravaged village, the footage to be transmitted at some future date as part of one of the regular gala fundraising TV spectaculars. On these occasions the cost of making and televising the film, complete with celebrity expenses, is quite probably exceeded by the amount of money donated by viewers when the programme airs.  And in these days of falling newspaper circulation it quite probably raises awareness of the plight of people in places that would never otherwise be on the radar of most TV viewers. If I were a celebrity I might well want to use my celebrity to bring famine and war and injustice into comfortable suburban sitting rooms, so to speak.

However the idea of visiting far-flung places in order to raise money for charity has taken a new dimension over the last few years. It has become charity tourism.

Essentially charities organise trips abroad and participants are asked to raise a certain amount of money in order to be able to go on the trip. Participants, therefore, approach friends, family, business colleagues, clients and strangers to collect money towards this financial target.

Has it not occurred to anyone else that we are simply being asked to pay for someone elses holiday abroad?

True, an amount of the money raised will go to the charity organising the trip but a significant proportion goes to pay for the trip itself as the costs of taking UK nationals to far-flung corners of the globe, feeding them, moving them about and returning them home safely are not inconsiderable. If I raise £5,000 for charity I would much prefer that the full £5,000 went towards the work of the charity than some pay for a jolly overseas trip. If I want a trek through the Hindu Cush I’d find a way of paying for my trip myself.

Another problem with charity tourism is that in order to excite the potential tourist the destinations chosen are ever more remote and ever more distant. I’m sure that there are many charity tourists hiking to Everest base camp, pounding the Inca Trail or cycling through Malawi as I write.

So what about the impact of tourism on these regions?

We fly thousands of miles with not insignificant carbon impact, invade local environments, buy a few trinkets and head home from these impoverished regions having improved their lot very little and raised a small amount for relatively wealthy western charities. Unlike the celebrity visits to remote regions this type of fundraising does nothing to raise awareness of these remote regions and nothing to help the local people out of poverty.

Why do people chose to raise money in this way? Whatever happened to sitting in a bath of baked beans in the local leisure centre?  I can only think that it is vanity. “Look at me. I’m walking in the Andes to raise money for ‘chaarideee'”, as Smashy and Nicey of Fast Show fame might put it.

I know that we all suffer from giving fatigue and that charities have to be more and more inventive to persuade us to participate and to help them to raise funds, but paying to take a UK national on holiday to China in order to raise money for a local hospice makes no sense at all. Look at the great work Maggies do with their Bike and Hike endurance events in Scotland. Innovative, challenging, integrated with local communities and fantastic in raising huge sums of money.

So next time someone approaches you looking for a tenner towards their trip to The Andes, please politely refuse and give your money somewhere where all £10 will go towards the work of the charity and let the vanity charity tourist pay for their own holiday to South America