The blurring of charity and commercial slum tourism

Thinking back of the last post on slumtourism regarding “donor tourism”, I was reminded of an animated discussion I had with a tour guide in the townships in South Africa. The guide argued that local schools that hosted tourists were being “ripped off” by tour operators. He felt that the chairs, tables and/or (note)books that tour operators hand out are too little for the benefits that they gain from visiting these schools. Particularly as these tour operators have been relatively vocal about their charitable efforts.

Whether or not the tour guide was correct, this is obviously a case of a commercial enterprise engaging in some form of charity. Indeed such actions are quite common among slum tourism tour operators, most of which stress their investments in the local community.

At the other end of the spectrum are tours and other activities that are set up and/or run by charitable organisations. These use tourism to gain additional additional income for their work. A number of volunteer tourism organisations also are set up as NGOs and are primarily reliant on tourists to support the organisation.  In a way the aforementioned “donor tourism” may also be seen as belonging in this category. Even though the tours themselves may not be used to gain additional income for the charity here, they are used to ensure donors get a more lasting connection with the charity thus continuing to give (financial) support.

Whilst I have not done a close analysis of such organisations as they are involved in slum tourism, I have noticed how these forms of tourism appear to be more and more merging. Commercial tour operators are getting increasingly involved in charitable practices as part of their corporate social responsibility programmes, while NGOs appear to be more and more take a commercial approach. In a way the two may now at times even be competing with each other. This is an interesting development, albeit one that may make it more difficult for tourists to discern between different forms of slum tourism.

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