The development of small tourism businesses has been seen by policy-makers as a valuable means of alleviating poverty in South African townships. This perspective has also been endorsed by several “responsible” tourism businesses and academics.
These findings suggests a need to critically reconsider current policies in favour of greater regulation and alternative forms of investment as well as a need to reassess the value of advocating responsible tourism to consumers who are often unable to gain full understanding of the context they visit or the implications of their choices.
Koens, K. & Thomas, R. (2016) ‘You know that’s a rip-off’: policies and practices surrounding micro-enterprises and poverty alleviation in South African township tourism. Journal of Sustainable Tourism.
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.
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
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.
Irma Booyens has just published an article in Development Southern Africa on township tours in Soweto, looking at visitor demand and the perspective of other stakeholders. Details below:
Rethinking township tourism: Towards responsible tourism development in South African townships
Township tourism in South Africa has grown in popularity since 1994 and is considered by some to be an appropriate mechanism for stimulating local economic development. This paper suggests, however, that it is not necessarily a viable or responsible development option, since it does not automatically ensure pro-poor benefits or enhance community development. Primary research conducted in Soweto to understand visitor demand and tourism stakeholder perspectives suggests there is a demand for responsible tourism in townships. The paper contributes to South African debates about the developmental role of tourism, township tourism and local economic development, responsible tourism, and the related policy implications. It calls for responsible township tourism development in which local authorities play a vital role and recommends the development of township tourism attractions, with a focus on culture and heritage, to create unique visitor experiences.
Booyens, I. (2010) Rethinking township tourism: Towards responsible tourism development in South African townships. Development Southern Africa, 27 (2), p.273. <URL>