SEATTLE — An estimated 863 million people in the world collectively live in slums, according to the UN-Habitat. Slums are shanty establishments or ‘informal’ housing normally considered sights of destitution and extreme poverty. But despite the ramshackle housing and lack of sanitation, the dawn of slum tourism is ubiquitous in many developing countries where such structures are prevalent.
The inception of slum tourism can be traced back to the 19th century when the affluent sectors of society in London began visiting the more impoverished East End and engaged in many charitable events. This was copied on the Lower East side of Manhattan. The anti-apartheid movement in South Africa was also the foundation for slum tourism when the curiosity of many tourists was piqued.
The industry has churned out millions of dollars in a highly competitive market. This has led to rising employment in many local slum communities. It has also provided local charities with the chance to work more closely with the people. Many slum tours offer the opportunity to work with local NGOs, since they are often spearheaded by locals with growing enterprising power and a vision for their community.
The recent visit to the Banganga slums in Mumbai by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge accentuates the growing momentum of the industry. They were given the opportunity to work with a charity called SMILE which empowers young children and parents by helping them garner skills.
The advent of this unique industry has been steadily growing and has played a pivotal role in places like South Africa, Kenya, India, Brazil, Johannesburg and Cape Town.
The dawn of slum tourism has ignited the spark of cultural and social understanding. Citymetric has highlighted that in 2014 alone, there were one million tourists who visited such settlements all over the world in totality.
Moreover, slum tourism has invariably paved the way for economic self-sufficiency as it has contributed to entrepreneurship among many communities who live in favelas, slums and townships.
The tour group Slum Gods Tours and Travels has achieved a high market share in this industry in the city of Mumbai. All the tour guides are young adults who have grown up in the heart of Dharavi- Asia’s largest slum. They conduct tours for the 500 tourists and locals who visit Dharavi every day. Many of them have been inspired to pursue a degree so that they can be successful entrepreneurs one day.
Furthermore, the organization repatriates 30 percent of the profits back to the local community. They conduct hip hop classes and nurture talented children to express their passion for culture and music. Along with this, they also aspire to teach English to children who are underprivileged, since they hold the language in high esteem.
Kibera Tours also works on this principle. Located in Nairobi, Kibera is the largest slum in East Africa. The founders of Kibera Tours are all locals who work with local NGOs and provide well- researched facts to the masses who visit.
Both the South African Khayelitsha Township Tour and Reality Tours and Travels in India are renowned Slum Tour groups who have helped their communities.
The rise of slum tourism has afforded a more enlightened view toward those living in the slums. This has benefitted tourists since it corrects common misconceptions associated with slums and people are made aware of the plight of the impoverished.
Tourists learn to appreciate the economically self-sufficient locals who work tirelessly for emerging industries. This economic growth is cyclical in nature as well. In Brazil, rising incomes in the Favela township in Rio have attracted retailers, bolstering and diversifying their economy.
With positive reviews on websites like Tripadvisor, slum tour groups like Smokey tours in Manila, Slum Gods and Reality Tours and Travels have gained the incentive to train the local slum’s residents and expand their initiatives with the community.
Easing the negative perception surrounding slums will play a pivotal role in combating and alleviating poverty. The dawn of slum tourism is emblematic of that beginning.
– Shivani Ekkanath