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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.

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