BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa – Though surprising to many people, slum tourism is nothing new and has been around for the last couple decades. However, a particular tourist attraction in South Africa has recently revitalized a debate about the ethics of slum tourism across the Internet.
In the western region of South Africa at the Emoya Luxury Hotel and Spa, one can pay $90 a night for a family of four and experience what it is like to live in a shantytown. However, the accommodations are more for aesthetics than authenticity. For instance, though the facility comes equipped with a “paraffin lamp, candles, a battery operated radio, (and) an outside toilet,” the rooms also have WiFi access, showers and underfloor heating.
The floating discourse surrounding this resort has been overwhelmingly of a fascinated nature. The University of Pennsylvania’s study of tourist perceptions at the Dharavi slum in Mumbai showed most were “motivated mainly by curiosity, as opposed to factors like social comparison, entertainment, education, or self-actualization.”
Rather than exposing outsiders to the real conditions of those who live in poverty, Emoya offers tourists a constructed version of poverty. Emoya simply gives its customers the illusion of poverty for leisure’s sake.
Usually, the term “slum tourism” refers to the concept of outsiders visiting impoverished areas, which became more common in 19th century London, where the rich would observe slums in surrounding areas. Later, slum tourism expanded to other countries such as South Africa in the 1980s, when international tourists wanted to learn more about apartheid. Currently, around 300,000 tourists each year visit Cape Town in South Africa to visit the slums.
In South Africa, substandard housing is a prominent issue. According to a survey by Afrobarometer Index released in October, poverty levels have increased in the last decade. Only 15 percent of South Africa’s population has an income high enough to secure a mortgage, with 25 percent unable to qualify for state housing, and many are impacted by a huge backlog in housing construction when they do qualify.
The epidemic of shantytowns is not one idly accepted by South Africans, either. In 2012, 173 protests occurred due to inadequate housing and basic services according to a report by Municipal IQ.
Over 1.8 million people live in Khayelitsha, a shantytown near Cape Town, and additional ones exist in many other countries outside the African continent. According to the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, over 200,000 slums exist around the world and are expected to grow in size by one billion people in the next 20 years.
With such a projected increase, the ethics behind slum tourism should be seriously considered. Many organizations coordinate tours of slums to generate revenue for those who live in the slums. In order to promote poverty alleviation, such establishments should be acknowledged with the same seriousness as the circumstances they trivialize.
– Jamison Crowell