While humanitarian tourism is increasingly examined from critical theory perspectives (see Ingram, 2011; Mostafanezhad, 2013, 2104; Simpson, 2004), less attention has been given to the role of media and spectacle in the enactment of this type of tourism. This research note aims to expose the social power of spectacle in humanitarian tourism, broadly, by arguing that the production of spectacle is necessary to adventure philanthropy, specifically. Adventure philanthropy combines altruism and humanitarianism with adventure travel (Lyons & Wearing, 2008) and is part of broader trends in philanthropy that employ alternative means of fund-raising (Coghlan & Filo, 2013; Goodwin, McCombes, & Eckardt, 2009). In adventure philanthropy, individuals partner with charitable organizations to set travel goals while engaging social media to raise awareness and funds for specific causes – for example, trekking the Silk Road to raise funds for women’s health initiatives or kayaking to Guatemala to support children’s education in the country. However, the spectacle of travelling towards destinations where aid recipients wait commodifies both the recipients’ poverty and the philanthropists’ adventure stories. This effect, in turn, depoliticizes the structural causes of poverty, ultimately normalizing inequality and reproducing the status quo, which raises questions as to the effectiveness and the results of humanitarian tourism. Such questions are relevant to a number of stakeholders: tourists/participants, audiences, recipient communities, corporate sponsors, and humanitarian organizations.
Rickly, J., & Clouser, R. (2019). Spectacle and adventure philanthropy. Annals of Tourism Research, 77, 158-160. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annals.2018.12.008