(Media) issues with slum tourism

As media coverage about slum tourism is increasing there are reasons to believe more and more people get aware of such a thing even existing. However after reading many of the news cases myself, I often fear that they give people a way too polarised picture to a very complex phenomenon.

Se link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19546792

See the full article here

See link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/patrick-mcginnis/is-slum-tourism-education_b_920520.html

See the full article here

See link: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/09/travel/09heads.html?_r=0

See the full article here

Yup. A media article often ask “Is it ethical to visit a slum, or is it not”? or “Is it exploitative poverty porn, or can it actually benefit the poor”?

The answers to all the four questions above are yes. Yes, slum tourism can be ethical, yes it can be unethical. Yes it can be exploitative poverty porn and yes, it can actually benefit the poor.

It really depends on many factors, right? As much as it depends on the tourist’s behaviour it depends on the company with whom you’re traveling with for slum tourism to be ethical. The same goes for when it’s not ethical. And logically, it also depends on the eye that sees: Two slum resident families may perceive tourists coming into their neighbourhood very differently, regardless of whether money from the tour goes to a school near by or whether the tourists are smiling and acting respectfully while they pass by.


Tourism per definition is highly complex. It’s a floating phenomenon taking place within places, hihgly dependent on human beings’ behaviour, choices and imaginations: Thus it’s constantly changing and developing and able to both improve and demean the lives of people, the various regions and the trends it impacts upon. But to understand it or judge it, it’s simply impossible to break it down into yes or no questions.

So.. To understand more of different tourism issues then, who do we ask, who do we trust and how do we find ways to travel as ethically as possible ourselves? In tourism overall, communication of this has only recently started to take off. Fortunately there is a trend in many major industries to talk about stakeholders’ social and economic responsibility.

I guess most would agree with the statement that tourism to any area should impact positively in terms of benefits to destination areas and their residents. Thus I guess most would definitely agree that tourism in typically impoverished areas should be a powerful tool for poverty alleviation.

However, the relationship between poverty and tourism is rather controversial and tourism is often regarded as being more harmful than beneficial to poor communities (wherever), and that is actually the main issue with tourism in the world today, and the very reason why I personally chose to go for a career in the field of Responsible Tourism.

When traveling I had started to see myself in the eyes of the locals, as just another tourist, one out of many.. Then I thought more and more about the immense impact we obviously have on places and societies. I got aware that travel is an extreme luxury product for the ones that can afford it, and saw myself as extremely privileged to even talk about my next holiday surrounded by people that don’t even use that word.

Just think about it: Traveling in the modern world represent the purchase of a product which takes wealthy people from the modern world (and poorer countries) out of our daily lives to somewhere else (more and more commonly to developing countries) in order to see new places and live new experiences far away from home. It undeniably brings an unbelievable added value to our lives.

No wonder this quote has gone viral on Facebook & Instagram lately:


What we often forget however, is to think about how our travels add value to the lives of the people in the destinations we visit. Is it really enough with us just arriving in their countries? Is it enough that we spend money on eating fancy dinners and sleeping in local hotels?

Well, it’s not of course. However, I could go into the it depends– arguments again, because it obviously does depend on various factors.

But when it comes to slum tourism there are many issues and controversies, and although it’s good you read whatever the media presents about the topic, it’s important to grasp the more profound debates about the complexities. And hopefully in the future more suggestions for actions and improvements to such a phenomenon.

Therefore I’d like to share some subtracts from my academic research report about the issues with slum tourism. To cut a post short, Ill post it separately here.


  1. Pingback: Key findings from my Master’s research | The Gipsy Giraffe
  2. Pingback: Why township tourism? | The Gipsy Giraffe

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