Category Archives: Slum tourism in the media

Real Misery – Newspaper article in Stuttgarter Zeitung

Last month the German newspaper the “Stuttgarter Zeitung” published an article on slum tourism. In an interview with human geographer Malte Steinbrink, the history of slum tourism is explained as well as a short debate on the motifs and ethics of tourism to such areas. In the end Steinbrink mentions  that whilst tourism benefits certain individuals, by itself it is certainly not enough to fight poverty.

You can read the original article in German here.

“Donor Tourism”: a new form of slum tourism?

It would seem that a new addition can be made to the  the ever-expanding world of poverty and slum tourism. The following article in English newspaper the Guardian discusses package tours that are organised by NGOs and labels it as “Donor Tourism”.

It provides a discussion of the reasons why (international) NGOs seem to have started to actively use specialist travel agencies to organise group donor trips to poverty stricken areas. In the end they note  “development agencies realise that to build lasting connections between donors and their beneficiaries, increasingly the donor needs to get something back”.

This is an interesting observation as it suggests donors are more and more seen as clients that have a right to expect something back rather than supporting  relief organisations on a more intrinsic altruistic basis. The article also reflects on the worries of those working in emergency relief who in general appear to be unhappy with “Donor tourism”. A further critical discussion is given by Matt Muspratt on his Blog, where he highlights the dangers of such tours for further emphasising people’s gaze of Africa as that of a charity case. As Chimamanda Adichie so eloquently points out such a single narrative can create incomplete stereotypes of impoverished areas and rob people of dignity.

Given this critique, it will be interesting to see how “Donor Tourism” develops and to what extend it will establish itself as a new form of poverty or slum tourism.

Experiences of a slum tourist

In the past month I read a blog post on slum tourism that may provide an interesting read. The author gives a concise summary on slum tourism including some pros and cons and in the end decides that slum tourism is probably here to stay and that it is up to the individual to go or not.

Two things in particular stood out in this post. Firstly the author mentions that some may take offence in including a US city in a discussion of slum tourism, in this case New Orleans. This is an insightful comment as it alludes to the fact that  slum tourism in general continues to be associated with developing countries. However during the “Destination Slum!” conference last December, US ghetto tourism was discussed as a form of slum tourism and remarkably similar issues were found in tourism to these areas. To see slum tourism as part of the developing world, only really shows one part of what it entails.

The second thing that stood out to me was a small comment regarding what to do when visiting slum areas. An (often given) advice is to try not to be obnoxious in flaunting ones relative wealth. In general this would seem a sane and good thing to do. However, it can be taken a step too far. During my own research in the townships around Cape Town, I heard complaints from tour guides about tourists that stripped themselves of all jewellery and things of value due to fears of safety. This meant they often had too little money to buy crafts or give tips to visitor attractions and tour guides, thus limiting financial support for local people involved. Also dressing down to this extent emphasised the “otherness” of the townships and the people living there. Several inhabitants felt that if tourists want to visit them, they should visit them as they are and that the dressing down was demeaning (“they come from abroad, we know they have money… Do they think we would immediately attack them or so?”). I suppose both the extreme flaunting of wealth as well as extreme dressing down may both be seen as disrespectful, albeit in very different ways.

Provide input on Global Development Podcast

This month’s Global development podcast will look at the ethics and economics of travel to developing countries and ask what tourism can contribute to local development.

For the current episode they are asking for questions that people would like to ask to be put to their panellists for the podcast. For this episode the first panellist is Tricia Barnett, director of Tourism Concern, a UK charity with a mandate to fight exploitation in the global tourism industry. The second panellist is Jonathan Mitchell, co-author of Tourism and Poverty Reduction: Pathways to Prosperity and research fellow at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), where he leads the institute’s work on tourism. The podcast is presented by Madeleine Bunting.

One of the topics that are mentioned on this matter is slum tourism and its ethics. Some questions that may be discussed are: What can explain the boom in “ethical tourism”? What role can tourism play in economic development? Can travel to developing countries do more harm than good? And how (if at all) can tourism be made to work for the world’s poorest people?

This is a good way to ask some questions or pose an idea to these experts in their field. If you have any questions or comments that relate to these matters or touch upon different elements of slum tourism, or would like to hear from certain people on the topic, let them know by commenting on their website. Most current comments are on voluntourism so it would be good to get more ideas on slum tourism on there as well. The podcast is recorded coming Thursday (28 April) so please be quick.

If you have any problems posting, or if you would prefer to comment anonymously, you can email the Guardian at and they will add your thoughts to the debate.



Historical Slumming

Although slumming has quickly become more popular in recent years, it is of course not a new phenomena. During Victorian times it already was a popular pastime for richer middle-class people in London and bigger cities in the United States. An interesting introduction to these earlier forms of slumming can be read in two books that may be worth reading.

Seth Koven writes in his book “Slumming: Sexual and social politics in Victorian London” about how the rich middle-classes started to visit the slums in East London. He describes why people started to visit the slums and how it (partially) shaped Victorian understanding of life. In 2009 Chad Heap wrote a book titled “Slumming: Sexual and racial encounters in American nightlife: 1885-1945.” He argues that slumming was more widespread in US cities than is currently believed. He describes how the initial moralising stance changed and started to provide a platform for artistic, interracial and sexual encounters.

Both books provide an overview of slumming in a different era. They show how at that time slumming also was a contended practice. Also they describe ways in which slumming changed the thinking of people at the time. It would be interesting to see how current forms of slum tourism compare to these historical examples and if anything can be learned from how slum tourism was practised in current times.

It’s not always about poverty – new types of slum tourism

As I mentioned in my previous post, many slum tours tell a story of poverty and indeed poverty is nearly always associated with slum tourism. Two new forms of tourism may cause people to question what exactly constitutes slum tourism. Firstly there is the latest addition to tourism in Soweto. This is one of the most often visited townships in South Africa. Although the majority of international tourists still go on a township tour, they now can also go there to do bungee jumping and tower swinging. The activities are based around the Orlando Power Station towers and are promoted as one of the most exciting ways to see the township.

These activities are very different from the average township tour and it would certainly be interesting to see what kind of tourists do these tours and how their expectations and experiences compares to the more usual forms of township tourism.


It’s not only in Cape Town however that new and different forms of slum tourism are being developed. Accoring to this newspaper article an Australian businessman has plans to build 10 luxury villas in the high parts of Vidigal favela in Rio de Janeiro. According to him the attraction would not so much be poverty, but more the excellent views on the bay and beaches. This favela also attracts tourists for its “funky parties“. This is very different from watching the poor that slum tourism is so often associated with.

While there certainly are many potential ethical problems with these types of slum tourism as well, it does show how slum tourism is evolving and diversifying beyond looking at poverty. However, probably due to their novelty these new types of tourism and their impacts are hardly recognised and not yet investigated much by those working in the field of slum tourism.


The danger of a single story

In an earlier post I mentioned a television programme that placed celebrities in Kibera in Kenya. On the internet the programme has been criticised for portraying such a negative picture on the slums and some even use it as a way to criticise slum tourism in general.  One of my colleagues recently pointed towards one of the main problems of the programme, namely that it portrays Kibera using a single story of poverty. She then pointed me to this excellent presentation of Chimamanda Adichie regarding the dangers of such a single narrative.

The matters raised in the presentation are in my opinion very much related to the ethical debates surrounding slum tourism. The presentation and emphasising of a single story of poverty in slums has been used to criticise tours where tourists visit slums or impoverished areas. This criticism is often justified, in particular with tours where there is little or no contact between tourists and local people. On the other hand slum tourism can also serve to counter negative preconceptions of impoverished urban areas. It can help in showing the great amount of cultural and economic activities as well as diversity of life in these places. As such it can assist in giving people the opportunity to tell “their story” rather than what is shown in the media or have their stories told by others who have only been in these areas themselves a limited number of times.

Unfortunately, too many slum tours do not allow for respectful interaction with local people. Strict time schedules, itineraries and the language barrier make it difficult for tourists to have (meaningful) conversations with people other than the tour guide. Equally, tourists are sometimes more interested in getting “the picture” than listening or talking with others. This limits the experience both for the tourists as their hosts and means such slum tours tell a story of their own rather than that of the people they visit.