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June 24, 2009




Very interesting post. It reminds me of my travels to the Dominican Republic. Although I was born there, to the locals I am a tourist. Once you leave the country whether it is for a better education, a better job or a better life you are no longer the same. This then becomes a problem when you are a tourist to your home country and an immigrant to your resident country. At times I get mad because there is no difference between "us" and "them". Some people will make jokes and offend you because you left the country, but they don’t realize you are trying to better yourself just like they are. You left to get a better job and send money back home, money for "them".

In regards to your posting I think that things are the way they are because of how tourists portray themselves. You have people that will travel and at times show off that they are tourist and come from this other "great" place. They throw money around and many times these same people are having trouble paying their own rent. Traveling should be to explore, learn and interact with other people/cultures not to show off what you have.

With those organizations, how do we really know if the money is being used correctly? It’s sad how corrupt people can be and the money you may send to help a child may never reach them. I’m one of those people who wants to help the world but at times it becomes so difficult. Should we send money anyways, not knowing if little Rita was able to get her shoes for school? Is just knowing that you sent money enough for us to help. Or do we not send money and not help bad/rich people get richer. I would really like to one day start a non-for-profit organization that would help those in need. Coming from a country with high poverty rates I know how important this is.

Leigh Shulman

Hey Lilly,

You make many really excellent points. I also know what it's like to be from one country but live in another. You sort of don't belong 100% anywhere, but then you also are a very real part of many different communities.

Now how tourists comport themselves is another matter. I've most definitely seen how many tourists don't treat the towns they visit with respect. They can be loud, obnoxious, don't treat locals like people and will litter and leave a mess without thinking twice.

The organizations? It's so hard to tell. Even those with big names and huge reputations aren't immune to corruption. BESO is one where I personally know the people running it. I've been to their charity chili cookoff in Bocas, too. There are some other Bocas based charities that I trust as well. One is a place where you pay to camp out with manatees and other endangered species. It's surprisingly cheap as long as you go directly through the organization. But there are also umbrella groups that sponsor these campouts as well, and you pay much more to go through them. I'll have to look up the specifics of these organizations and post back.

Ken & Hanako

Capitalism is all about seeing everyone around as a human money machine. It's not just when traveling. It's also about charging whatever the market will bear. Just think of it as bargaining everywhere. If you walked into a street market and wanted to buy something and the seller started at 100 and you talked her down to 75, the price you'd be willing and able to pay for the good, it doesn't really matter what the cost to the seller is. If someone else walks in and the seller can see by his appearance that the person won't be able to afford 100 or even 75, she might start lower and of course the buyer won't be able to close the deal unless he can afford the ending price. You're just seeing a more overt and systematized application of the same principle. Of course, you could try to bargain more aggressively where ever you go, but it would just be a waste of time for a couple of cents of savings. The only solution is to do away with money and markets, but that's not likely to happen in our lifetimes. Until then we're all just walking commodities to each other.

Marco Polo

Hey there,

I'm resisting the impulse to rant on anecdotes I could give about paying significantly more than a local.

Generally, I've found that engaging with the locals does not only make the traveling experience better, it can also bring the price down. Of course that has its limits.

To end with a little anecdote nonetheless: When I was on a trip in Mexico, I ate at a a tiny restaurant and over a couple of broken attempts at Spanish got into talking with the owner about family (in a mix of broken English and Spanish). Not only did I get an insight into Mexican culture and family life, I also got a free drink for my meal.

Engage with the people and they will engage with you!

Paul-Christian Britz
Social Media Director
Team Marco Polo
Filmateria Studios, Seattle

Leigh Shulman

So then, I suppose the question becomes how to break through commodity. Do you initiate conversation as mentioned below by Marco Polo? Do you just accept it?

Perhaps it's also more prevalent in area of higer tourism. I have been amazed in Salta how there really isn't such thing as haggling over prices and there's generally one price for everyone. I've even had cab drivers return money I intended as a tip telling me I've paid too much.

I find it hard to stomach the idea of just accepting I will be a walking commodity. There's just that part of me that wants to believe that people across the world are really people.

Leigh Shulman

How apropos, Paul, that you focus on the anecdote that supports the type of travel I think most of us (at least those commenting on this particular post) would prefer.

Sometimes simply expressing interest in a person on a real level, asking about family, their lives, things like that are enough to make a real, non-commodity based connection.

And then sometimes, possibly more often than not, it won't be enough, but why focus on that?


Just a few days ago I got an email from a marketing PhD student researching local/tourist price differences and how travelers react to these differences. This topic has been on my mind.

I understand paying a bit more for certain services and entrance fees to historical/natural sights. For example, I want Copan ruins to be at an accessible price for Hondurans, but I also understand that the park needs money for maintenance and I'm OK to foot a bit more of that bill as a tourist.

Unfortunately, it is true that some tourists do seem to flaunt their money around and this gives the impression that we're all loaded and also that we don't care about paying high prices. This usually happens in highly touristed areas and the result is that many local businesses and services look at tourists as walking money instead of human beings. It's hard to break through that.

Similar to Marco Polo's experience, when we get out of the tourist area or find a local place on a back street, it's easier to make a connection as regular human beings. We've been humbled in some instances where people with far less than us insisted on giving us food or drink. In these situations, we WANT to pay but have found that sometimes we insult the host if we insist too much. Sometimes we can find ways to repay them by buying schoolbooks for the kids or shopping in their store.

The phrase "poorism" is awful, but I understand the idea of trying to open the eyes of those with money to the reality of life for so many people around the world. And, through this interaction they may be more willing to act with money or time. The difficulty is to not make the experience like a zoo where the differences are so vast between the two groups and there is not enough time to break down the divide and relate simply as people (on both sides). More often than not, I don't think this is achieved.

The social enterprises we found in Southeast Asia were good examples of organizations running a business to support a social cause (e.g., street kids, single mothers, etc.) and it was a way for to introduce tourists to socio-economic problems and get them involved with the community.

Lots to think about. Thanks for a great post.


check out www.compassionatetravel.org

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