Learning about Hurricane Katrina from the people who lived it

In this story for Epicure & Culture magazine travel writer Jacqui Gibson asks the question: is it ethical to tour disaster sites?

Ornate balconies of the French Quarter, New Orleans (image by Jacqui Gibson).

Ornate balconies of the French Quarter, New Orleans (image by Jacqui Gibson).

 

The last time I was in Christchurch, a tour bus dropped me off in the city center to watch diggers chomp through concrete rubble in the pouring rain. Umbrellas were dished out to curious tourists leaving the bus to snap evidence of a broken city.

It was the winter of 2013; Day 1 of a week-long coach tour of New Zealand’s South Island, two years after the February 2011 earthquake that killed 185 people.

I remember taking a photo of the bottle-green Vintage Watch building on Hereford Street bordered up and wrapped in plastic, adding a filter and posting it online.

My post said: “Hey, followers! I’m deep in the belly of the Christchurch rebuild. Here’s a sneak peek into the state of New Zealand’s disaster-struck city.”

What was I doing exactly? Was I peering through wire fences to pay my respects or was I engaged in something more superficial, perhaps even sinister? Was it even possible to make sense of a global disaster like an earthquake as an ethical tourist?

Ethical tourism or disaster voyeurism?

Disaster voyeurism. Dark tourism. Rubbernecking. Tours of recent disaster zones go by all these names. Truth is, they make for good business. That’s because tourists are willing to pay top dollar for an experience that helps shed light on significant — even disastrous — world events …

This story was published in Epicure & Culture magazine.

Flood zone, New Orleans (image by Jacqui Gibson).

Flood zone, New Orleans (image by Jacqui Gibson).