Skip to content

Slum tourism in the media

Slum tourism and city branding in Medellin

Cable carts in Medellin, Colombia

Most attention to slum tourism in Latin America focuses upon visits to the Brazilian favelas. Tourism in other countries is much less common and has received hardly any attention. However, recently an insightful article was published on the internet regarding the notion of tourism to Medellin, Colombia. It  discusses tourism in the context of social urbanism and city branding.The online article is a summary of an academic article by the same author in the Journal of Place Management and Development. Certainly worth a read!

Hernandez-Garcia, J., 2013. Slum tourism, city branding and social urbanism: the case of Medellin, Colombia. Journal of Place Management and Development 6, 43–51.

 

Slum tour operator “Reality Tours and Travel” winner of Responsible Tourism Awards 2012

Reality Tours and Travel, the company operating slum tours in Dharavi, India has won the Responsible Tourism Awards 2012. The company is awarded the prize on the basis of their educational Dharavi Slum Tours that is said to make it possible for tourists to tour a slum in India in a responsible way.

The Awards Judges said: “We were really impressed by this fully integrated approach to realising the social purpose of using tourism to raise awareness of the reality of slum life, good and bad, and to raise money from its business and its customers to assist the community in Dharavi to develop. It has developed a form of Respon

sible Tourism that deserves to be adapted and replicated elsewhere; for this reason, as well as its own substantial achievements, we have selected Reality Tours and Travel as the 2012 Overall Winner of the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards.”

This is the second year running that a slum tourism product (or similar) won the overall Responsible Tourism awards. Last year it was Sock Mob Events/Unseen Tours that won with their tours of London by homeless people. This is an interesting development. Whereas slum tourism has received much criticism on ethical grounds, it now also is increasingly recognised as a potential form of responsible travel. One of the most needed things to achieve this, would appear to be transparency on where income and profits go. The website of Reality Tours has an impressive  ’transparency‘ section on their website that shows how their income is spend. Unfortunately, the last report dates from March 2011, so it is not possible to see the developments of the last 1,5 years in which the company can be expected to have grown much.

 

BBC World Service broadcast on slum tourism in Dharavi

An interesting radio broadcast on slum tourism was recently aired by the BBCWorld Service. Its “Business Daily” programme reports on slum tours in Dharavi, India and we hear a short analysis from Dr. Malte Steinbrink on the subject about whether the phenomenon represents aid or exploitation for slum-dwellers.

 

The programme can be download from the BBC World Service website, or you can download the report as an mp3 file directly from here (the part on slum tourism starts at 7.12).

 

BBC News article – Slum tourism: Patronising or social enlightenment?

BBC News has published an article on slum tourism highlighting the ethical debate on slum tourism. While the article holds little new information, it contains a decent summary of the debates. Furthemore it is another example that slum tourism incresasingly gets attention in the mainstream media after a similar article appeared in the UK “Metro” free newspape.

 

Collection of essays (a.o. on slum tourism) wins price and will be released in 2013

Leslie Jameson has won the 2011  Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize for her collection of essays ”The Empathy  Exams: Essays on Pain”.  

The press release quotes Robert Polito as he says: “The Empathy Exams explores subjects as diverse as slum tourism, parasites, medical acting, sentimentality, ultra-running, and drug wars through the lens of pain. These essays swirl around the physicality of the body and churn through cultural expectations to find a way to represent pain—and the accompanying impulse of empathy—without distorting them through narrative expression.”

It will be interesting to read how she deals with the subject of slum tourism in her final book. Given that her PhD research deals with poverty and degradation in twentieth century American writing, it could be that this is going to be the focus in her essay on slum tourism as well. Should anyone know more about this, please get in touch!

Sockmob Event/Unseen Tours win Responsible Tourism Awards 2011

Sockmob Events/Unseen Tours have won the Responsible Tourism Awards 2011. Their product is an interesting one that in first instance may not be perceived as slum tourism, but certainly overlaps with it. It involves homeless people showing tourists their vision of the city. As such it appeals to tourists seeking a more ‘real’, ‘authentic’ or ‘exotic’ view of London. Seen in this way it is not too dissimilar from other slum tours. The win of Sockmob Events/UnseenTours shows that slum tours also can be perceived as a form of responsible tourism.

You can find the award ceremony for the Responsible tourism awards at this link: RT awards 2011

 

Visiting the French Banlieue

The global nature of slum tourism is yet again observed in a French newspaper article and accompanying film about tourists visiting the Banlieue (impoverished suburbs) around the big cities in France. Unfortunately both publications are in French, so may be sometimes somewhat difficult to follow (google translation).  As a short summary, the article discusses how so called ‘Greeters’ assist people in visiting the impoverished suburbs in Paris, Lyon, Nantes and Marseilles or in the Pas-de-Calais. They seem to be from the area and argue they want to promote the area and dispel the prejudices that many tourists and French people may have. Tourists going on the tours say they are seeking the ‘real’ France. Both such arguments to organise to visit the Banlieue are very similar to slum tours elsewhere.

These free walks have existed in Paris for the last 4 years and have met a certain success: 240 ‘Greeters’ have joined the ‘Parisien for a Day’ association, which organised more than 4,500 tours in 2010. It seems the (tourism) department of Seine-Saint-Denis is one of the first official bodies of government that shows interest, although other initiatives are also developing in les Yvelines and Seine-et-Marne. It appears that the tours have originated to a certain extent in the community, although I cannot really grasp from the article how the ‘Parisien for a Day’ organisation works, so if anyone knows more about this, please let us know!

Difficulties in promoting tourism to the Tenderloin area in San Francisco

Although most news on slum tourism still focuses on developing countries, slum  tourism is becoming more and more visible in Western Europe and the USA too, as do the ethical discussions surrounding such tourism. A recent example of this is so called tourism to the area of  “Tenderloin” in San Francisco.  Proponents who want to develop this kind of tourism are backed by the city’s mayor who wants to use tourism to promote “a positive identity for the Tenderloin” by posting plaques on buildings to “create great visual interest for those walking down the community’s street”.

I found two points particularly interesting about this article. Firstly it mentions it may be easier to encourage local San Franciscans to visit the area, rather than foreign tourists, given that there are so many things to do in the city. If it will be mainly local people that visit the area, tourism here will be very different from for example township tourism or favela tourism that are mainly visited by foreign visitors. It would be interesting to see if these areas will be represented in different ways because of this, particularly as domestic slum tourism receives very little popular and academic attention.

Another, slightly related point that intrigued me has been the reception of the idea of tourism. One blogger was fairly moderate in his comments and discussed how the area may simply not be suitable for tourism and media-hungry public figures use it for some free publicity. I do not know the area, but this could very well be the case. Others have been less moderate and show the underlying tensions that are so significant with slum tourism. One blogger decided to criticise the idea of tourism to Tenderloin by making fun of it, stereotyping the neighborhood and the people who live there. It would seem articles like this do more to misrepresent and stigmatise impoverished neighborhoods than tourism could ever do. As an author from the Tenderloin area notes, the article is full of banal and overblown generalizations and simply bad taste. Interestingly (s)he then turns to discuss tourism to the Tenderloin and argues that while seeming decent, tourism may actually to turn out very negative:

“Tours of poverty (rephrased as “grittiness” in some attempt at being politically correct) are scummy. There’s a reason that aspects of them are big in South Africa and Germany as it seems that in places where white supremacists were/are big, they love that shit. It’s like going to a human zoo for them. This of course fits in line with how they view anyone not white. Rather shocking that it’d be tried in San Francisco”.

An example of a vehicle that should not be used to visit a slum.

Here the prejudice and stereotype is reserved for those that are interested and take part in such tours. To be fair to this latter blogger in another post (s)he writes about how tourists visit Tenderloin in the vehicle that can be seen on the picture on the right. Even though the tour apparently also visited other parts of the city, using a vehicle like this to visit an area like Tenderloin is seriously distasteful and makes a  negative perspective on slum tourism more understandable.

The example of tourism to this neighborhood and the strong reactions it provokes  show the inherent difficulty involved with slum tourism. The idea of supporting tourism to an impoverished area and posting plaques on buildings seems a useful way of promoting awareness particularly among local people and potentially bring some additional money to poorer communities. However, it is very easy for slum tourism to be vulgarized and this makes it likely to be dismissed out of hand. On the other hand, hiding impoverished areas does not make them go away and provides visitors with only a partial picture of a place.

Again, it seems that one cannot really discuss slum tourism in terms of good and bad. It can be both, depending on the way areas are represented and the extent to which it is done with a respectful attitude to the community.

 

The ugly side of slum tourism

A weblog by Michael Smith mentions the possible start of  of poverty tourism to the Romani settlements near Veµká Lomnicea village in Slovakia. What is significant about this form of slum tourism is not just the location, but also the fact that it is the mayor of the town that is planning to organise the tours. Apparently the local population that is to be visited has little or no control over this project.

This would make it an example of slum tourism of the most unethical form. Not only does it seem unlikely  money will reach those that are visited, tourism even seems to be used for political purposes. While this may be a biased version of the story, it does reflect a potentially highly disrespectful form of slum tourism that should not be endorsed.

More generally, since this kind of slum tourism perpetuates the negative connotation that many people have with slum tourism, one wonders what people can do to highlight to tourists that tours are unwanted before they book them. Furthermore, it begs the question of how to ensure visits to impoverished areas and communities happen in a respectful way. Next week will see a paper discussing this latter issue on slumtourism.net.