This is a photo taken by Eric A. Smith who is himself not a disaster tourist and who seems like a cool guy. It’s only here cause it’s a good photo. I repeat that he is in no way the face of this article, people like him would actually be useful
Update: This article is stupid. These people are actually really useful for getting the word out, and they support the local economy and bring in donations. I’ve been working with these people and they’re actually great. I’m just keep this up to remember what an ass I am.
What I say is what I’m saying and in no way representative of anyone.
Lately I’ve noticed a stream of people, mostly white, that are hanging around the relief effort. They don’t seem to have any particular skills besides perhaps the fig-leaf of a video camera. Most videos I know end up in various sock-drawers, so I actually don’t give a shit unless they have some distribution in place. Actually I pretty much don’t care at all unless they’re a TV station, and I don’t like TV. They take up time, have backpacker-chitter-chatter about law-school or whatever in the office, and insist on meetings with busy people with many things to do. What I think has nothing to do with anything, but these disaster tourists are driving me crazy.
It’s not that I mind them not helping, or even travelling to the affected areas. It is one sort of tourism and it gives money to local guides, hotels, etc. What I do mind is that many of them treat relief agencies like a Travel Agent, asking for transport, accomodation and tours. Today I was working and someone asked me to look up Sri Lankan Airlines for them. WTF? What they contribute is ‘video’ and unspecified donations from their home country. I guess what they don’t realize is that the net benefit to Tsunami Victims is less than if these people had simply stayed home. In fact, they are probably hurting the relief effort.
Let’s say that a ticket here costs $2000 USD. You also spend 5 hours of relief workers time coordinating your travel, lodging, and food because you are unable to travel alone, speak the local language, or feed yourself. Make it 10 hours. This staff is usually volunteers or subsistence pay, but during this crisis I’d say that their time is worth at least $20 and hour (a lot here). So that is another $200. You have spent $2200.
What Tsunami Victims receive is: 1) Less attention from relief workers 3) More traffic along supply lines 2) Someone taking their picture.
What $2200 could cover is the operating expenses of a medium-NGO for two days, 7400 meals, or 4400 notebooks for kids going back to school.
Oh, and I almost forgot, Disaster Tourists often bring boxes of goods to further validate themselves. Usually it is a few suitcases or whatever you can ship in a cargo hold. That is nice, but for such small amounts, the hassle of clearing the goods almost always outweights the value of the goods itself. Let’s say you ship $500 worth of medical supplies, then you’re screwed cause customs will be all over that. Give up. Let’s say you ship $500 worth of something else. It takes someone about 4 days on the phone and a letter from God to clear that, plus 6 hours in the port, and two hours transport. Then it takes a logistics team to sort these random-ass packets of stuff, store it by type, and get it to the people that need it. It is way easier to deal with a bulk shipment than it is to deal with 500 small shipments. More likely than not the small packets people send sit in some warehouse, preventing other goods from being shipped out and costing the relief agency money. What you end up with is the equivalent of a messy basement or garage where there are just piles of junk. All in all it is a net loss to the relief effort in time, space and effort. Furthermore, even if the relief workers did use those goods, that would mean that they’re not buying the products locally. For goods like aspirin or clothes it’s beyond wasteful, it’s actually hurtful.
In short, Disaster Tourists hurt the relief effort. If you’d like to be a tourist that’s great and you’re welcome. Even if you’d like to tour the camps that’s cool. Check into a nice hotel, find a local guide and take a tour. Just don’t walk into NGOs and relief offices and pretend like you’re anything more than a tourist, because you’re not. It keeps time and resources away from people that need them. If you are unemployed and own a video camera I suggest that you look into porn.