Category: Issues of concern in tourism

Orphanage tourism – an issue of concern!

For a long time concerns have been raised in the tourism industry regarding orphanages attracting tourists as visitors and volunteers, and like I wrote about some months ago, the respected tour agency pioneered when they took action and removed tour products that entailed orphanage visits among their holiday packages. The campaign got good media coverage, and it’s delightful to see the topic being on the agenda for important events like the World Travel Market.

While these are very good news and an important step for the fight against a complex issue, it’s also true that the number of orphanages in the developing world and volunteering projects for want-to-become volunteers is booming. Therefore, as one can see with other issues of concern, it takes a lot more awareness-raising campaigns and calls for action in order for travelers to get educated and the private sector and national governments to act.

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In that regard Tourism Concern just published a post, prior to an up-coming campaign against orphanage tourism, asking whether volunteers are fueling this unethical practice. In the article they point out that while nobody doubts the good intention of the donors, travellers, and volunteers who give time or money to orphanages, they still believe that orphanage tourism, and volunteerism are fuelling the demand for “orphans”, and so driving the unnecessary separation of children from their families.

Furthermore by stating that the number of orphans in Cambodia has halved – yet the number of orphanages has doubled – 75% of children in these institutions are not in fact orphans. In Ghana the figure is as high as 90% they tell the audience how important it is that they engage with this topic, even if that means just spreading information about the issue.

So please do, and while you’re on it, please also sign this petition to stop unethical practices within this field.

Congratulations ECPAT International

I just read something wonderful!

ECPAT International was recently selected to receive the 2013 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize of $1.5 million (US dollars), for its tireless for the elimination of child prostitution, child pornography and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes. According to their own website 2013 is the 18th year for the Hilton Prize given by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation to an organisation that is significantly alleviating human suffering.

ECPAT International was one of over 200 organisations being considered for the award, and won it as “The Hilton Prize international jurors recognized the pressing need to put a spotlight on this malignancy that is growing throughout the world” said Judy Miller, vice president of the Hilton Foundation and director of the Hilton Prize. Dorothy Rozga, the Executive Director of ECPAT Internation, states being deeply honored to be selected to receive the prestigious Hilton Humanitarian Prize by its distinguished jury. Read more here.

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Personally, I discovered ECPAT International some years ago through my growing interest in tourism impacts, learning that child sex tourism is one of the crucial issues of consequences in our increasingly globalized world. I’ve also written a piece about them before. As ECPAT describes it child sex tourism occurs when an individual travels, either within their own country or internationally, and engages in sexual acts with a child. Some offenders engage in sexual acts with children out of experimentation often fueled by opportunity or a feeling of anonymity as a result of being away from their home.


Attending to conferences about Ethical Tourism, reading Codes and strategies for the future, working for Tourism Concern and studying Responsible Tourism Management, I’ve come to understand how sex exploitation (in tourism) is an increasingly notorious and ugly daily reality to millions of children worldwide. By seeking to ensure that children everywhere enjoy their fundamental rights free and secure from all forms of commercial sexual exploitation, the name ECPAT has become synonymous with action to stop the commercial sexual exploitation of children over the last 20 years.

Their work truly is among the most admirable and crucial in our world today.

To get involved and support ECPAT, please visit this site.

How RESPONSIBLE slum tourism looks like

As a follow up to my previous post called Key findings from my master’s research, I’ve chosen to share what I defined as Responsible Slum Tourism during my project investigating Township Tourism in Cape Town, South Africa and presented in my final report. The background for my study was based on the presumption that:
for slum tours to be practiced more responsibly, it is essential to consider ways in which tourism to deprived areas can be a tool for socio-economical development and poverty alleviation.
And that presumption is linked to the widely accepted fact between academic researchers that:
although small companies find it challenging to implement strategies beneficial to all in the community, there is great potential for tourism to benefit more residents than those already involved (Rolfes 2010; Goodwin 2012).
The 14 criteria I’ll present hereby are an extension of – and a rationale for – a criteria checklist I created when searching for tour operators to participate in my research. The criteria are targeted at tour operators (whatever the slum area) and crucially suggest how following them will benefit all stakeholders: The community, the tourist and the tour company.

NB! Please note that with regard to tourism to urban disadvantaged areas, the term township goes for the same as favela in Brazil, villa in Argentina, barrio pobre in some Latin-American countries, gecekondu in Turkey, or simply slums in India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt ++. Shantytowns often refer to the areas within a slum or on the outskirts of a city where all buildings are of very low-standard, e.g. made of corrugated metal, plywood, sheets of plastic and cardboard boxes. Most slums include shantytowns, and indeed they often represent the most popular attractions for visiting tourists.

Photo cred:

Shantytowns in Lima. Photo cred:


Shantytowns in Jakarta. cred:


NB II! It’s important to emphasise that tours to different slum-like areas around the world aren’t all the same. However, through research and the gathering of valuable material on how the concept is developing both in places where it has been going on for decades and places where the practice is emerging, there are many interesting similar features, such as:

  • Tour companies promoting how their tour fight stereotypes about poverty and poor people
  • Tour companies promoting how their tour is educational for the visitor
  • Tour companies promoting how their tours benefit local people
  • Tours including a visit to a household, a community center, a school, kindergarden or orphanage
  • Tours including cultural or traditional elements such as dance, singing, a home kitchen, traditional doctors
  • Visitors being concerned about their safety and the fear of intruding upon people’s private lives
  • Visitors speaking very warmly about the eye-opening experience after their tour

Whether you are a want-to-see-slum individual, a (slum) tour company or a tourism professional, I think the below criteria can be helpful in further thoughts – and actions – on what Responsible Slum Tourism looks like.

NB III! Please note that the criteria presented below are developed on the basis of previous findings by a variety of researchers in addition to my own experiences and research in South Africa.

1. Walking over driving tours

It’s difficult to create meaningful connections and mutual respect between guests and hosts when tourists sit in a car/ bus and see the neighbourhoods through glass tinted windows. Fortunately there is an increase in walking tours in Langa (the township in Cape Town that I was investigating for my report), as well as other townships, and this shift might partly reflect residents’ concern about voyeurism and limited interaction (Rolfes et al. 2009; Butler 2010). Research shows however that though companies state that they avoid drive through tours, this still occurs.

2. Small rather than large tour groups

Equally, this contributes to avoiding residents feeling intruded on (Butler 2010). It does however seem that this criteria already is met by most responsible tour operators as it is often stated on their website.

3. Behaviour guidance to tourists

Most tourists have never been on a township tour and hardly know what to expect when they go. Yet they know a township is a deprived area, and research shows that many tourists have ethical concerns prior to booking (Rolfes et al. 2007). In this context the tour operator and the guide plays an important role in informing on ‘good behaviour’ to avoid negative impacts on communities. What makes sense to the tour operator will not always make sense to visitors and vice versa. Besides, it enhances an operator’s ethical credentials (Goodwin 2011b).

4. Photography policy

Although as this research found, many local people like having their picture taken (Freire-Madeiros 2009), living with it daily can become bothersome (Ramchander 2004; McCombes 2011). Clearly, it should never happen without the residents’ consent, but research show that people on tour, and especially in groups, tend to objectify ‘everything’ for their holiday album (ibid). This does not mean they do not know how to behave, but they forget their very own behaviour as ‘observers on tour’.

5. Fair salary

The tourism sector is highly informal and research shows that many businesses take advantage of cheap labour staff due to high unemployment rates (Koens 2012). Fair salaries to guides generate staff goodwill, something that in turn results in satisfied clients. Moreover, it can reduce exploitation of the host communities as it has been observed in both this research and Koens (2012) that guides interfere with donations to residents in order to end the tour getting a bigger tip themselves.

6. Tipping policy

Whether fair salaries are assured or not, the tour operator could still communicate on their webpages that tipping the guides (for good service) is welcome, rationalising this with guides’ background. Other companies have had success with this practice (e.g. Reality Tours in Mumbai), which results in guides behaving more professionally whilst increasing their salaries.

7. Compensation to visited households

If households are visited during a tour, they are in fact treated as a tourist attraction as they indeed add value to the tour. It is then essential that this service is paid for (Whyte et al. 2012). This research and Butler (2010) show that visitors often wonder what agreement tour operators have with households, and if they should tip them too when visiting. It also makes business sense to communicate this clearly (Goodwin 2012)

8. Promoting local purchase

If slum tourism is communicated as beneficial for host communities all potentials for increased benefits should be exploited; this is particularly important in the context of wealthy tourists visiting poor areas, to learn from, and understand township lives. Research shows that today visitors are driven to ‘make a difference’ (Rolfes et al. 2009; Butler 2010; Teixeira 2011).

9. Donations from tourists

This takes the community enhancement aspect further. Many tourists might not find anything to purchase, and depending on the nature of the tour, it may not seem natural to all to ‘spend money just to spend’. Moreover, research show that educated people understand that giving to a community project might benefit more people overall, and therefore prefer this to purchasing objects (McCombes & Goodwin 2009). Although not all visitors ask about donation possibilities, this research and other sources show it is their most favoured option for which tour operators receive grateful feedback (Rolfes et al. 2009; Maliepaard 2010; Tripadvisor reviews).

10. Own involvement/donations

Tourists expect their experience of township to be developmental at some level (Rolfes et al. 2007; Butler 2010; Ma 2011). Tour operators find their own way to engage, and this may change during time, however it is believed to create goodwill among host communities and admiration and trust among clients (Goodwin & McCombes 2009).

11. Evidence of responsible claims

Research shows that some tour operators do much more directly and indirectly for communities than what they actually communicate (Maliepaard 2010). It is important to move away from statements like “X % of our sales go to a community project; we make a difference in the community; we create employment; we are respectful” to detail what and how tour operators do it, and whom the above benefits. This allows for greater trustworthiness and makes complete business sense as a USP (Koens 2012). Crucially, communicating what is being done, or how the company’s operations affect the community, attract devoted clients that in particular look for (even if it is subconsciously) good communication of such. Research shows these are increasing in numbers (Frey & George 2007; Goodwin 2012).

12. Linkages with local enterprises

The more linkages companies creates, the more widely they benefit the community. Research shows there are issues of repetition on township tours and a need for more content on tours (Rolfes et al. 2007; Frenzel et al. 2012). The potential to include restaurants and craft shops, as well as homestays in tour packages is underestimated (ibid).

13. Seeking residents feedback

This enhances mutual respect between beneficiaries. Emphasis on improving and establishing community participation empowers residents, generating goodwill and cooperation that all stakeholders benefit from (Boyeens 2010; Goodwin 2011b). Feedback is most useful when originating from the very own host communities that operators benefit from.

14. Assuring staff have the same aims

While companies may claim to follow the above criteria and therefore assume their tours benefit the community, this and precedent research show this depends largely on who is guiding the tour (Rolfes et al. 2007; Boyeens 2010; Butler 2010; Maliepaard 2010).


If you want some more background info regarding my research in Cape Town, have a look here.  Also, check this interesting post out about a gathering of research findings from other researchers on the topic “How do slum inhabitants feel about tourism”.

For any questions regarding my research, or information on my upcoming work on this, please email me on

Issues with slum tourism

After two months of representing a living dead due to having overtaken a way too big project as an individual for my Master’s research, I finally managed to hand it in and got to enjoy life in Cape Town again. As I wrote about some days ago my new life included traveling in the Cape Town region with my mum and drinking wine. Lots of wine.

Though I’m delighted the time as a living dead is over, I’ve also suddenly felt rather empty not having to get up every morning to write on the report. And since I’m very devoted to continue with more township/slum tourism research, I’ve thought to channelise some of the things I’ve learned about the field on my blog, as it seems it’s of growing interest among not only academics and journalists but travelers too.


I’ll start with sharing some subtracts from my academic research report about the issues with slum tourism.

The growing tourism to the developing world often come with discussions about how tourism can benefit the world’s poor. And many claim that whilst the discussions go on, tourism is actually instead benefiting from poverty, as the touristic valorisation of poverty­- stricken areas of metropolises is growing.

Such recognition is accompanied by heated debates, and journalists and academics have for long attempted to identify the purpose of slum tourism. In this post, I’ll first go through the issues of defining tourism to disadvantaged areas:

Unlike most other tourism forms, slum tourism is ethically and politically ambiguous. It is subject to widespread debates polarizing opinions, and there exists no official definition of it. Disparate terms like Poorism, Zooism, Voyeurism, Slumming or Poverty-, Dark-­, Justice-­, Political-­, Social-­, Reality-­, Development-­, and Culture & Heritage tourism are all used to describe this phenomenon (e.g. Ramchander 2004; Rolfes 2010; Ma 2010), which reflects the many efforts made to debate and comprehend its manner and purpose (Butler 2010; Outterson & Selinger 2009; Frenzel et al. 2012). Also, while the applied terms depend on the author’s discourse, they will undeniably also depend on which actor is being studied in the real world. This indicates that the many expressions probably can correlate during one slum tour, giving it different meaning and purpose according to how and who it impacts.


Looking at slum tourism as a dynamic product this way demonstrates its complexity. Consequently is it complex to reach an agreement on slum tourism’s purpose and outcomes. Let’s look at some debates based on this tourism form’s many controversies:

The major controversy attached to slum tourism is the notion that poverty and deprived people are slum’s main attraction (Freire-­Medeiros, 2009; Rolfes et al., 2009; Steinbrink, 2012). It relates to the fact that the distance between the ways of life of slum tourists – wealthy enough to be having a holiday in the first place – and the ways of life of slum dwellers is obviously colossal. This distance therefore provides a perverse power of attraction (Frenzel et al. 2012), and consequently much debate is sparkled by judgements and speculations about the tourists’ unethical motives. Their assumed desire to see people living in poverty fosters accusations of voyeurism, often blaming tourists for taking part in a form for human zoo (Whyte et al. 2011; Frenzel et al. 2009).

A common opinion is that albeit tourists’ caring personal intentions, their presence in a slum can be perceived as voyeuristic and intrusive to people’s private spheres (Briedenhann & Ramchander, 2006; Freire-­‐Medeiros, 2009; Whyte et al., 2011). Whereas some may argue that privacy intrusion is an issue in other forms of tourism too, what is evident in slums is that residents already lack privacy due to poor housing (Huchzermeyer 2011; O’Brian 2011). Is it then “ethically acceptable for financially privileged tourists to visit places for the purpose of experiencing where poor people live, work, and play” (Whyte et al. 2011:2)? Tightly connected to that question however, is another: Who is in charge of delivering that purpose responsibly?


It is argued that slum tourism in many ways turns the reality of the underprivileged into entertainment for tourists to experience for a moment and then freely escape permanently. This critique of displaying reality on slum tours is by some linked to reality television.

Tour operators, such as television producers, can basically write a script for tour guides on what to tell and show, playing on emotions such as compassion, fear and delight. A crucial question in slum tourism therefore, concerns how slums are represented and if these representations are fair (Butler 2010; Rolfes 2010; Frenzel et al. 2012). To counter the critiques, slum tour operators often argue that the purpose of their tours is to dispel negative stereotypes surrounding slums by educating tourists about slum life and residents (Rolfes et al. 2007; Teixeira 2011; Frenzel et al. 2012). However, Fennel 2009 (in Whyte et al. 2011) argues that when tours’ mission and purposes are laid, slum residents’ wishes are rarely considered. Instead they are turned into passive objects – a product in the service of an industry.

Indeed, it is commonly assumed that slum dwellers are relatively powerless compared to visiting tourists and tour operators, thus easy to exploit. Research has found that slum tour operators typically are for-­profit companies and donate little money to slums (Outterson & Selinger 2009; Ma, 2010; Maliepaard 2010; O’Brian 2011; Teixeira, 2011). Questioning slum tourism’s suitability then, it is important to ask who benefits from slum tourism. How are profits from tours distributed and do the tour operators pay slum dwellers for adding value to their tours (Whyte et al. 2012)? Do tour operators support or initiate social projects (Frenzel et al. 2012)?

In order to combat misbalances of power and benefits, many authors argue that residents should play a bigger role in the planning of tourism, not a role as tourist attractions in itself (Rolfes et al. 2009; Whyte et al. 2011). As in other tourism forms, is it essential that host communities participate and have some control over tourism in order for it to be both economically and socially empowering (Goodwin 2011).



Those are the main issues predominantly debated in the academic sphere (hence the references). Ill write about the pro’s in another post soon, as they are indeed as important, considering that this tourism form whether we like it or not, is expanding rapidly and globally as we speak.

If you have any questions about my research, findings and how I worked, please email me on

(All photos in the post are my own).

(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.

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See the full article here

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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.

Slum tourism in Jakarta

Another piece about slum tourism’s development was recently published on Youtube. This time it highlights the phenomenon in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Though I don’t like the typically polarised opinions about slum tourism’s issues of concern, content like this helps to raise awareness about the phenomenon.

The video description is:

Poverty tourism is gaining ground in Indonesia with more tourists looking to “experience the real Jakarta”. But while this brings more funds to the city’s impoverished slum-dwellers, accusations of exploitation are not far behind.

Cambodia’s booming orphanage tourism

Yes, such a thing exist. Orphanage tourism. Sounds bizarre right? Especially if you’re living in a so-called Western country…

Can you imagine that young foreigners that don’t even speak the language of your country show up at orphanages’ doors getting the responsibility for a bunch of parent-less children? Didn’t think so.

But that’s what’s going on in Cambodia – and many other poor countries – to where travellers flock, searching for ‘doing something meaningful’ while abroad. I don’t know what you think about it, but there are many reasons to believe this is a problematic trend that entails far more (potentially) damaging aspects than what a few occasional positive stories can live up to.

Here is a short documentary on the business behind the booming orphanage industry in Cambodia.