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.
The Oxford English Dictionary dates the first use of the word slumming to 1884. In London, people visited slum neighborhoods such as Whitechapel or Shoreditch in order to observe life in this situation. By 1884 wealthier people in New York City began to visit the Bowery and the Five Points area of the Lower East Side, neighborhoods of poor immigrants, to see "how the other half lives".
In the 1980s in South Africa, black residents organized township tours to educate the whites in local governments on how the black population lived. Such tours attracted international tourists, who wanted to learn more about apartheid.
In the mid-1990s, international tours began to be organized with destinations in the most disadvantaged areas of developing nations, often known as slums. They have grown in popularity, and are often run and advertised by professional companies. In Cape Town, South Africa, for example, upwards of 300,000 tourists visit the city each year to view the slums.
Prior to the release of Slumdog Millionaire in 2008, Mumbai was a slum tourist destination. The concept of slum tourism has recently started to gain more attention from media and academia alike. In December 2010 the first international conference on slum tourism was held in Bristol. A social network of people working in or with slum tourism has been set up.
Slum tourism is mainly performed in urban areas of developing countries, most often named after the type of areas that are visited:
- Township tourism: in post-apartheid South Africa and Namibia. South African settlements are still visibly divided into wealthy, historically white suburbs and poor, historically black townships, because of the effects of apartheid and racial segregation.
- Favela tourism: in Brazil
- India: Various places including Dharavi in Mumbai, as depicted in the movie Slumdog Millionaire
- Jakarta Hidden Tours in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia.
- Social or religious divisions: New York City and Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Ghetto tourism focuses on slums known as ghettoes, especially in developed countries. Ghetto tourism was first studied in 2005 by Michael Stephens in the cultural-criticism journal, PopMatters. Ghetto tourism includes all forms of entertainment — gangsta rap, video games, movies, TV, and other forms that allow consumers to traffic in the inner city without leaving home. As Stevens says, "digital media achieves more detailed simulations of reality. The quest for thrills mutates into a desire, not just to see bigger and better explosions, but to cross class and racial boundaries and experience other lifestyles." International tourists to New York City in the 1980s led to a successful tourism boom in Harlem. By 2002, Philadelphia began offering tours of blighted inner-city neighborhoods. After Hurricane Katrina, tours were offered in flood-ravaged Lower Ninth Ward, a notoriously violent and poor section of New Orleans. Ghetto or "urban tourism" often encompasses travel to destinations made famous by direct or indirect mention by popular artists. Travel to certain parts of Detroit that include 8 Mile Road, known for the role the travel route played in the similarly titled 8 Mile film starring Eminem, or to Crenshaw Boulevard in South Central Los Angeles, a metropolitan area that inspired an entire generation of pioneering musical influence, could potentially be included as urban tourism. The Jane-Finch area of Toronto, Ontario, Canada is gaining notoriety as another area in transition.
A 2010 study by the University of Pennsylvania showed that tourists in Mumbai's Dharavi slum were motivated primarily by curiosity, as opposed to several competing push factors such as social comparison, entertainment, education, or self-actualization. In addition, the study found that most slum residents were ambivalent about the tours, while the majority of tourists reported positive feelings during the tour, with interest and intrigue as the most commonly cited feelings. Many tourists often come to the slums to put their life in perspective.
Slum tourism has been the subject of much controversy. Both critiques and defenses of the practice have been made in the editorial pages of prominent newspapers, such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, London Times, and others. A primary accusation that the advocates against slum tourism make is that it "turns poverty into entertainment, something that can be momentarily experienced and then escaped from". Kennedy Odede, a Kenyan, wrote in the New York Times Op-Ed section, "They get photos; we lose a piece of our dignity." Similar critics call the tours voyeuristic and exploitative. Slum tourism critics have also cited the fact that Christmas and Valentine's Day as common times for slum tourism further supporting the belief that Westerners often visit slums just to "feel better about themselves" during those holidays when most people are with families and significant others.
The tours provide employment and income for tour guides from the slums, an opportunity for craft-workers to sell souvenirs, and may invest back in the community with profit that is earned. Similarly, the argument has been raised that well-off tourists may be more motivated to help as a result.
In 2013 controversy arose when a company called "Real Bronx Tours" was discovered offering tours of The Bronx advertised as "a ride through a real New York City 'ghetto'...[the borough] was notorious for drugs, gangs, crime and murders". Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito condemned the tours stating "Using the Bronx to sell a so-called 'ghetto' experience to tourists is completely unacceptable and the highest insult to the communities we represent." The tours were soon discontinued.
- "Slum Tourism: A Trip into the Controversy". May 15, 2010. Retrieved 2011-07-25.
- "Slumming In This Town. A Fashionable London Mania Reaches New-York. Slumming Parties To Be The Rage This Winter. Good Districts To Visit. Mrs. Langtry As A Slummer". New York Times. September 14, 1884. Retrieved 2010-12-08.
'Slumming', the latest fashionable idiosyncrasy in London -- i.e., the visiting of the slums of the great city by parties of ladies and gentlemen for sightseeing -- is mildly practiced here by our foreign visitors by a tour of the Bowery, winding up with a visit to an opium joint or Harry Hill's. ...
- ""Slow Roll Detroit"".
- Marc Saint-Upéry (October 21, 2010). "Left at the Crossroads: Ogling the poor". RIA Novosti. Retrieved 2010-12-08.
The word 'slumming' was first registered by the Oxford Dictionary in 1884, coinciding with a rising Victorian preoccupation that mixed philanthropy, social paranoia and voyeuristic titillation. Respectable middle-class Londoners would visit seedy neighborhoods such as Whitechapel or Shoreditch, while wealthy New Yorkers roamed the Bowery and the Lower East Side to see "how the other half lives". By the turn of the century, the tourist practice had begun to decline
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- Slumtourism.net – Network for people working in or with slum tourism
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- Hanrahan, Mark (May 8, 2013). "Your Next Vacation Destination: A Slum?". Huffington Post.
- Does slum tourism make us better people?, ScienceDaily
- 'Ghetto' tours of Bronx ended after outrage