Last night we held a Christmas social in London at which we launched our ‘Slum Tourism’ Report. It was a pleasure both to see familiar faces and to welcome new ones. Thank you to everyone who made it such a great success – we hope that you enjoyed it as much as we did.
The night, held at Beany Green in Paddington began with a welcome from Mark Watson, Tourism Concern’s Executive Director, and was followed by an introduction to the report by Peter Bishop, Programme Manager, and the report’s author. Peter shared his recommendations for everyone considering a visit to a ‘slum’ (a controversial term!), beginning with the suggestion you should ask yourself why you are interested in visiting in the first place. He asserts that, if you are unsure of the answer, perhaps you should reconsider your visit. If you do decide to go, however, it is important to choose a tour which is sensitive to, and of benefit to, the people who live there. For full details of Tourism Concern’s recommendations, members can view the report via our Reports page.
Here are five tips to make your trip better.
- Interact with people: Learn some basic words. Lots of us do it when we go to France or Germany, why wouldn’t we do it when we are going to a poor community? However, do not force an interaction when it is not welcome. Many people will be busy working and won’t have time to talk to you.
- Wear simple clothing. Not because otherwise it would attract attention and put you at risk of being robbed, but for respect for the people in the community who perhaps can’t afford to buy new and fancy clothes.
- Respect people’s privacy. In slums, favelas or shanty towns you will probably go through very narrow alleys and people usually leave their doors and windows opens. However, that isn’t an invitation to look inside their houses.
- Respect people’s space. Do not stop in front of people’s front door or block alley ways. You are on holiday, they are not.
- Do not give hand-outs. However, money donations to established social projects or donations of books, art supplements, toys, nappies, milk are more than welcome.
Mark Watson then spoke briefly about previous Tourism Concern research that explored the motives of tourists visiting slums, which included the finding that some tourists were even disappointed that slums weren’t poor enough! This highlights misunderstandings about these marginalized areas, and perhaps also suggests how voyeuristic visiting can be. Mark described Tourism Concern’s approach as advising travellers by providing questions for them to in order to choose the most ethical tour company, resulting in a better experience for everyone.
We then welcomed Victor Azevedo, a Brazilian national who worked as a tour guide offering Favela Tours in Rio de Janeiro. Victor offered a positive look at the Favelas. He felt, from his experience, that tourists are very welcome there, and that tourism has brought both economic and social benefits to these communities, with local entrepreneurs thriving thanks to visitors. The favelas have also gained political recognition as a result and some – especially those that are popular with tourists – have become better regulated and protected by law. Some are in effect becoming less marginalized and some tour companies, like the one he worked for, reinvest their money in the communities to support social projects.
Dr Fabian Frenzel – a lecturer at Leicester University and an expert on slum tourism – discussed tourism’s role in the creation of ‘slums’ as we know them. He offered us some history and context on slum tourism, how they began in Victorian England and became well known in South Africa post-apartheid. Fabian’s viewpoint was very balanced, noting the role of tourism in creating political capital, but also describing shortcomings. He would like to see the industry being more productive in how it reinvests money into communities, and not only into the most visited ones in the most attractive locations but other areas which do not currently benefit. He feels that slum visits can have positive outcomes by breaking down social stigmas and facilitating better understandings of how people live. It is important to acknowledge the power dynamics involved in such interactions and vital to respect your hosts.
Dr Fabian Frenzel wrote and published a book called ‘Slumming it’ that came out this year see here.
We then had a short Q& A session, with people sharing their own experiences, concerns, hopes, and advice on what more can be done and how to approach this kind of tourism. Hopefully, we all came away with a better understanding of the complexities of this type of tourism and a positive feeling about what slums may reveal to tourists.
The evening was nicely rounded off with informal chats over wine and beers!
Members can access the report here: https://www.tourismconcern.org.uk/reports/
If you’re not yet a Member become one – https://www.tourismconcern.org.uk/join/