Category: Slum tourism

How Responsible is Township Tourism in South Africa?

Today I’ll share a piece with you that I wrote for the organisation Tourism Concern, about my township tourism research in Cape Town.

Feel free to contact me to discuss the findings or other relevant topics related to this.

During a holiday in Cape Town in 2009 I went on a township tour. Not knowing much about tourism to urban impoverished areas at the time, but concerned about how the communities would benefit from my visit, I looked for an ethical company I could trust.

To my positive surprise I found out that not only tour companies, but also the government’s tourism body assure that tourism is beneficial to the township communities as well as very educational for the visitor. Any specific initiatives were not indicated, yet tours were promoted as a ‘must’ to learn about African culture.

I decided to book a tour with a small local company and liked the experience as it was indeed eye-opening and the residents I met were welcoming. However, ever since I was unable to stop thinking about what is in it for local populations.

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Therefore, three years later, the choice of subject for my final research project during the Master’s program Responsible Tourism Management was easy. I went to Cape Town to investigate the scope of community beneficial initiatives within township tourism.

During the 4 weeks of fieldwork in the townships Langa and Khayelitsha I explored six tour operators’ actions and opinions related to previously identified issues of concerns in the field of slum tourism, by interviewing them about their responsible practices and participating on their tours.

I also interviewed forty inhabitants from the most visited areas about their perceptions of tourism impacts and four representatives from the local government about current work on responsible tourism in the field. I will here reveal some of the findings from my research.

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Outside of a kiosk in Langa (before starting my own research there) I discovered a random flag…

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 positive impact claims are 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.

One example of such is tour companies’ avoidance of fairly compensating the most deprived households they involve in their tour. 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 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 occasionally left some money. Regrettably I was repeatedly told that donations occurred to a decreasing extent after more local guides had penetrated the market and the competition for the much wanted tourist money had grown.

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Labour hostels in Langa, Cape Town

 

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 the big 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, let it be clear that there is no doubt that good initiatives exist in this field, and some township dwellers indeed have got their livelihood enriched due to tourism. Besides, whether people like it or not, there are reasons to believe this phenomenon is here to stay. Hence is it crucial that the way forward is to actively find ways to awareness rise about its issues and require that government acts, while highlighting and rewarding the many (hopefully) ethical initiatives in place.

FYI. The above article was first published on Tourism Concern´s webpage.

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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!!)

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: www.peru.anglican.org

Shantytowns in Lima. Photo cred: http://www.peru.anglican.org

cred: www.commons.wikimedia.org

Shantytowns in Jakarta. cred: http://www.commons.wikimedia.org

 

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 gipsygiraffe@gmail.com

Key findings from my Master’s research

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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.

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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.

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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.

Image

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.

Edit January 2014: This article has been published on http://www.tourismconcern.org.uk, and went viral on Twitter the weeks after.

Bridges for Music launch in South Africa, feat. Luciano

The story I told about the two days Luciano was in Cape Town and Johannesburg with us is being rewritten, so please bare with me (I had a terrible cold at the time and wrote about it in a stressed situation ending up focusing on a bunch of irrelevant details).

For now, enjoy this video (created October 2013) from the small tour Luciano did in Cape Town with Bridges for Music was recently uploaded on their homepage

Good times, and I wanna go back so badly!! South Africa in my H E A R T!

 

and Luciano too. Such a cutie!

Bridges for Music feat. Skrillex

Straight from the five days in Mozambique we went to Cape Town where Skrillex and his crew had arrived to start their South Africa mothership tour. Valo got confirmed two weeks ago that Skrillex was keen to join a Bridges for Music workshop during his short time in Cape Town, and we were obviously super excited to meet the guys.

We thought it will be difficult to overdo the experience after having Richie and the crew here, but really – the days with these guys were as hilarious! Touring alongside Skrillex were 12th Planet and Alvin Risk, two other Bass music artists that have know Sonny (Skrillex) for a long time. We met them directly in Langa February 28th for the Bridges for Music workshop.

Check it out:

The workshop was a success and afterwards we went to one of our favorite city restaurants in Green Point, El Burro. Delicious and cheap Mexican food and mojitos. Some tequila shots later we ended up at the tiny club Fiction where South African bass DJ Niskerone was playing. Suddenly Skrillex was at the decks and you can only imagine how the crowd went.

I’ve been on quite a bit of backstage- and after parties in my life and seen DJs and groupies and all that, but seriously: I have NEVER EVER seen the girls behave the way they did this night. Haha, Sonia and I felt like two old aunts, there with no motives of getting laid, sitting with our mouths open observing this circus. In fact we felt a bit sorry for Sonny surrounded by crazy groupies and tried to “help out”.. Yeah we know, he is grownup and knows what he does.

The following day we invited the crew to go with us to Jumpstart DJ school in Khayelitsha. Chill as they are and despite of jet lags and their upcoming gig in the Osterich farm that night, they all came.

To our surprise the students had prepared some Bass music sets for the superstar’s arrival and my, oh my.. What a party it turned into!

It was all so completely random and real, and equally unique for the students as these international artists traveling the world surrounded in whatever luxury they ask for (not that they are, I’m just saying they can). The below pics are from the Jumpstart DJ school in the middle of Khayelitsha where we were bouncing for hours to the students and “mentors” DJ sets.

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Epic.

From there it all went upwards, – literally – as V and I got invited to join the guys for a helicopter ride (that in my case nearly ended with a suicide) around the Cape.

Stay tuned!

Why township tourism?

If you’ve read some my blog, you know by now that slum- and township tourism are tourism phenomena that interest me a lot. After having experienced my first such tour ever in 2009, I wrote about it from a traveler’s personal point of view here.

After starting my master’s degree in Responsible Tourism Management (RTM) where I learned more about complex tourism mechanisms and impact studies from poor areas globally, I also read a lot more about slum tourism from an academic point of view (which Ive shared here stressing why a Responsible Tourism approach in particular is important in the field of slum tourism), and from the media’s point of view (shared here & here stressing that the phenomenon is a lot more complex than “good or bad”, thus needs solutions for improvement).

Since I started sharing my views on township and slum tourism, I may not have explained thoroughly why I finally chose to research township tourism for my final research project for my Master’s degree. Part from rationalising a little in the posts linked to above. I’ve therefore chosen to copy and paste a little from my final report (that was awarded with a Distinction). It regards the reason for why I finally wanted to study township tourism for my final project.

During a holiday in Cape Town in 2009 I went on a township tour. Not knowing much about tourism to urban impoverished areas at the time, but concerned about how the communities would benefit from my visit, I looked for an ethical company I could trust. To my positive surprise I found out that not only tour companies, but also the government’s tourism body assure that tourism is beneficial to the township communities as well as very educational for the visitor.

Any specific initiatives were not indicated, yet tours were promoted as a ‘must’ to learn about African culture. I decided to book a tour with a small local company and liked the experience as it was indeed eye-opening and the residents I met were welcoming. However, ever since I was unable to stop thinking about what is in it for local populations.

Therefore, three years later, the choice of subject for my final research project during the Master’s program Responsible Tourism Management was easy. I went to Cape Town to investigate the scope of community beneficial initiatives within township tourism. During the 4 weeks of fieldwork in the townships Langa and Khayelitsha I explored six tour operators’ actions and opinions related to previously identified issues of concerns in the field of slum tourism, by interviewing them about their responsible practices and participating on their tours. I also interviewed forty inhabitants from the most visited areas about their perceptions of tourism impacts and four representatives from the local government about current work on responsible tourism in the field.

Now that Ive got good feedback on my report and Ive agreed on it being available online, Ill also soon reveal some of the findings from my research for you. They are important and should be interesting to people far outside of the Academic field too.

Read about the key findings from my research here.