The ‘volunteer tourist gaze’: commercial volunteer tourists’ interactions with, and perceptions of, the host community in Cusco, Peru

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Current Issues in Tourism, 2019
Issue Date:
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© 2019, © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This paper presents the commodified volunteer tourist gaze through the use of a case study which contextualizes commercial volunteer tourism. Interviews undertaken with volunteer tourists in Cusco, Peru, and on-the-ground participant observation, provide insights into what we term a ‘volunteer tourist gaze’ underpinned by neo-colonial tendencies. The findings demonstrate that volunteer tourists are not passive consumers of a destination, but actively engage in a multi-sensory, embodied experience. This is evidenced in the way they describe their interactions with local people, and their views and perceptions of poverty in Cusco. However, the findings suggest that the volunteer-host interactions and experiences do little to foster cross-cultural understanding, particularly given the limitations to these interactions imposed by a significant language barrier. Instead, the commodified volunteer tourist gaze perpetuates neo-colonial discourses by emphasizing the differences between volunteer tourists from the developed world (the haves) and host communities in the Global South (the have nots).
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