Having spent the best part of the last decade involved in the world of travel, I am by no means blind to the price and impact that we as travellers have on the destinations that we visit. Like most, I am guilty of allowing my westernised viewpoint to colour my judgment and actions when exploring the globe. In theory, I’d like to be able to stand firm behind conscience and belief that, whatever and wherever I amI’ll Do No Harm, however… theory is merely a set of guiding principles, what needs exploring is the facts and, in that, I am woefully negligent. *’Slum’ tourism “Poverty tourism”, “poorism”, “favela tours”, “township tours”, “reality tours”, call it what you want…the label itself is unimportant, the issues that inspire then, however, are exceptionally important and critical to the continuing development and evolution of tourism in developing countries. The controversial practice involves touring marginalised and impoverished settlements that are far from the usual tourist trail. Proponents argue that, not only can it enable economic and social mobility for residents, but it can also change the perspectives of those visiting. However, many critics see it as little more than voyeuristic classism with potentially damaging consequences and few benefits for those who live in the slums.
As part of their extensive and continued support and studies of the world’s most challenging and deprived settlements, Tourism Corner recently embarked on a research project to gain insight within the very communities that make this area of tourism a reality. Favela da Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro, is the biggest slum in Brazil with an official population of 69,356 inhabitants (although community leaders claim that the real number is at least 200,000) and attracts about 40,000 tourists each year. Tourism Concern spoke to 25 residents in Rocinha about their view of the possible tourism-related benefits and challenges in their community and about their perception of tourists. When asked about actual benefits or what changes tourism has brought to their community the most common answer was “none”.
For the community I don’t see any difference, I see difference in the number of people in the community, we see a lot of foreigners, but benefits for the community I don’t see any.” (Francisco, 34, mototaxi driver)
Despite the current deficiencies in the growing trend, residents remain hopeful that at some point tourism would bring financial resources for social projects and generate jobs for local people.
“The benefits tourism could bring for us are the investments in social projects inside the favela. If there was an institution…an NGO that distributed a percentage of the revenue of tourism to social projects, it would be a benefit; in my opinion it would be a real benefit…” (Peter, 42, fisherman).
“I think all of us see tourism as an opportunity to get some help for social projects, schools, and so forth… the positive is that through tourism we can show that not 100% of the people in favelas are bad people or criminals…” (mototaxi driver, 34)
The concept is by no means black and white and remains highly contentious in both tourism industry and traveller circles. In December 2016, Mark Watson, Executive Director for Tourism Concern and lecturer and leading expert, Dr Fabian Frenzel sparked a new wave of debate and opposition with the launch of an in-depth report on the subject. The hope is that, by educating and breaking down the issue, we can consider arguments from both sides of the and clear the way for a permanent and open dialogue on the subject.
*Slum tourism, or ghetto tourism is a type of tourism that involves visiting impoverished areas. Originally focused on the slums of London and Manhattan in the 19th century, slum tourism is now becoming increasingly prominent in many places, including South Africa, India, Brazil, Kenya, Indonesia, Detroit, and others.
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Words by Daisy Sells