Rather than having a knee jerk "this is despicable and can't be tolerated" approach, I think if properly coordinated and executed, this can be something beneficial to both parties, and an educational introduction for those with no previous experience with "the other." And an introduction is all it is and can be. A group tour doesn't mean you've lived there or even truly experienced it, it only means you've been allowed a highly selective and controlled glimpse- one that may hopefully lead to further exploration, education and ultimately, participation.
Yes, there's plenty of room for abuse, degradation and exploitation with such enterprises. That's why the tour operators must not only be "reputable" entrepreneurs, but a proven benefit to the poor they attest to serve- not the local criminal element. I remember reading just a while back (think it was also in the NY Times) about some similar type tour in India where the itinerary included a visit to a hospice- where one tourist began to vociferously complain how a certain someone was holding things up taking way too long to... die.
Photo: John Maier