How Locals Feel about the Practice of Slum Tourism?

Just came across the Independent travel cats. It’s made by a couple passionate about traveling and makes up a very good site in terms of being shaped as a blog with a great variety of content on many kinds of traveling.

What mostly caught my attention today was this very good update they recently posted on the increasingly debated concept of slum tourism.

Ill provide you with the link, but this is how it starts:

Have you ever heard of slum tourism? This is a tourist practice where travelers visit poor areas of the global South to view the impoverished conditions of local inhabitants. Organized slum  tours exist around the world in cities such as Mexico City, Johannesburg, Mumbai, Cape Town, and Rio de Janeiro. The worldwide success of the film Slumdog Millionaire significantly increased the number of Western travelers signing up for tours which promise to guide them through the stench-filled slums of Mumbai, India.

While the practice of slum tourism is certainly not a new concept—for instance, 19th century wealthy Londoners would sometimes go “slumming” in the poorer neighborhoods of London—there has been an increase in the number of organized tours worldwide which has fueled discussion about this controversial practice. 

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Photo credentials: lebbeuswoods.wordpress.com

Then , the authors provide the reader with a Brief Summary of the Arguments For and Against Slum Tourism:

Arguments in support of the practice: 1) profitable business practice that employs locals who live in these impoverished areas, 2) opens Westerners eyes to poverty in other parts of the world and perhaps motivates them to do something, 3) many tours donate a percentage of their profits back to the community in some way (e.g., maintaining parks, schools, or community centers), 4) increasing tourism to these areas leads to increased income for locals selling products and services, and 5) increased tourism leads to increased government investment in infrastructure (e.g., roads, telecommunications, bridges, water supply) that will benefit both travelers and locals.

Arguments against this practice: 1) slum tourism is a practice only geared towards making profits out of viewing the poverty of others, 2) the practice is exploitative and voyeuristic, 3) locals do not like or want to be put on display for tourists and feel demoralized by it, 4) most tourists only visit out of curiosity, not with the intent of giving back to the community, and 5) viewing poverty in an idealized manner only downplays the real and horrendous living conditions of people in the slums.

From there the authors go on sharing their opinion about how it’s interesting that much of the commentary on slum tourism comes from those living in the industrialized Western world and is predominately based on opinions and anecdotal information. They then point on what many researchers (including myself) have started debating. That it’s more important to hear from those who actually live in these areas, and to collect this data using empirical methods.

Here you can take a look at their summary of a research article that recently was published in Annals of Tourism Research. It specifically investigates whether slum tourism can be a responsible practice by gathering information from both local inhabitants working in the slums and from local experts involved in developing these areas.

Travel Research: How do Locals Feel about the Practice of Slum Tourism?

If you want to read more about slum tourism research, have a look at what I’ve written about my own experiences. Check this post about how I researched the phenomenon in Cape Town,  this post about the key findings of my research and this post about what I defined as Responsible Slum Tourism for my research project.

Also, before doing my research, I wrote about my first visit to a township in South Africa, divided into not one, but two more posts actually (no wonder I eventually researched the topic, I got so passionate about it when first visiting!!)

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4 comments

  1. Jessica | Independent Travel Cats

    Hi Jeanett, I just got the ping that you posted a post about our slum tourism article from our blog Independent Travel Cats. I am excited to know that you are also a researcher in this area! I would love to chat further if you want to e-mail or send me a message on Facebook. I plan to continue the Psychology of Travel series and would love to have you follow us and vice versa. Perhaps I can post some of your own research results on my blog if that is something you would be interested in sharing as I think it is an important topic.

  2. Pingback: Key findings from my Master’s research | The Gipsy Giraffe

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