Like I mentioned a time ago, I want to share some of the findings from my research about Cape Town township tourism with you.
After agreeing to share my report with whoever is interested to read it, and hoping to assist Tourism Concern in developing an awareness campaign about slum tourism, as well as having initiated good contact with the City of Cape Town in order to share and discuss new knowledge, I can only think of good reasons to publish some of it here too.
The names of the involved companies or specific details about them is obviously confidential. And please let it be clear that I am not one of the critics that wants to see an end to township tourism or other forms for slum tourism. In fact, I strongly believe this increasingly popular phenomena can have vast potential to “do goods” for both hosts and guest.
However, as with any other tourism form, there seems to be plenty of unused opportunities for improvements and if I can contribute to an increased awareness and attention to this topic by sharing my findings, that is fulfilling in itself. Moreover the very fact that slum tourism per se is a quite controversial topic due to poverty being the authenticity many visitors are attracted to see (read more about those theories here, Id also claim that this field in particular needs to be extra cautious and regulated in order to be fully sustainable.
For more info on why I chose to study township tourism please read here.
MY FINDINGS and personal statements:
While there is no doubt that the South African township tourism sector holds a large number of professional tour operators that mean well for the communities they visit, the evidences of their many impact claims are unfortunately few. And although I experienced that both companies and guides conduct tours respectfully in terms of friendliness, photography policy and information giving that assist in combating stereotypes, I detected ambiguity regarding fair pay of involved hosts, as well as several untapped potentials for maximised positive impacts on the communities.
An example of such is tour companies’ avoidance of fairly compensating the most deprived households they involve in their product. During the distinguishing ‘labour hostel visits’ tourists are taken into the shared bedroom (which also serves as their living room) of four families to see and learn about their poor living conditions. Of the eight such interviewed households in my research, half of them claimed to get more than five visits per day, and none stated to benefit economically, unless tourists left some money now and then.
Regrettably I was repeatedly told that donations occurred to a decreasing extent as more local guides had penetrated the market and the competition for tourist money had grown.
Another example regards the creation of interaction, which ironically is one of the main promises on the many company websites. It may be a coincidence of course, but sadly I only experienced twice during ten tours that we as visitors were given the time and possibility to interact with the locals (even during the popular hostel visit as described above). The consequence of this is that the hosts (or any inhabitant present) turn into passive objects rather than active participants, hindering them to exploit much potential for social and economic empowerment.
Regardless of these issues of concern, it became clear to me that township dwellers do welcome tourism because it represents the only industry through which many can enhance their living conditions and situations, in areas that are longtime forgotten by the government. Throughout my time in Langa and Khayelitsha I couldn’t stop thinking that it is on behalf of this very hope, in addition to the inhabitants’ tremendous hospitality, that the majority of the tour operators earn very good money. And personally, until I know better how that income is redistributed and put back into the community, and the government begins to take the sector seriously and regulate it, I have my doubts for its sustainability. Sadly those thoughts reflect previous research within not only township tourism in South Africa, but also about slum tourism globally.
Lastly though, whether people like it or not, there are reasons to believe this phenomenon is here to stay. Hence should the way forward be to actively find ways to awareness rise about its issues and require that government acts, while highlighting and rewarding the (hopefully) many fair and ethical initiatives in place.
Edit July 2013: For recent updates on what the locals think about this tourism form, please read here.