Are slums the new tourist hot spots?

Issue date: 06 December 2010

'Destination Slum', 9-11 December 2010 University of the West of England

Are slums the new tourist hotspots? How ethical are the businesses drawn up to cater for tourists' desires to visit poor neighborhoods? Do travel companies give something back to the communities? How do the communities living in slums feel about their more affluent visitors? These are just some of the questions that will be asked at an international conference at the University of the West of England on 9 – 11 December.

'Destination Slum: The production and consumption of poverty in travel and tourism' is hosted by UWE's Bristol Business School (BBS). This conference is an international gathering of 40 researchers of slum and poverty tourism in urban areas. The keynote speech will be given by Dr Bianca Freire-Medeiros, author of Touring Poverty (Routledge, 2011).

Conference organiser and slum tourism researcher Fabian Frenzel from BBS visited Brazil earlier this year to do research on tourism in areas of poverty in Rio de Janeiro. He said, “Slum tour operators and the tourists display quite some awareness of the moral ambiguities of the tours. They often voice criticism of others involved in the business while differentiating their tours as morally superior. Generally speaking the market shows quite some diversity depending on the depth of engagement with poverty searched for by the tourists. Standard tours take around three hours while other tours take longer and promise deeper engagement.

“Slum Tourism is not a new phenomenon. Slums favelas and townships have long enticed popular imagination. They have been scandalised and fought, bulldozed down and walled in. They have also been idealised and sought out as places displaying a more authentic humanity, flourishing culture and deviant, but inventive entrepreneurship.

“More recent fascination with films like 'City of God' and 'Slum Dog Millionaire' shows that slums still entice and fascinate. Indeed in today's 'planet of slums', slum-tourism flourishes. Concurrently the concept of slum tourism is problematised in a growing body of research that addresses this controversial past time. Paramount in reflections of slum tourism are ethical concerns and potential benefits: Is slum tourism voyeuristic and immoral?

“The conference will explore the many issues surrounding the growth in slum tourism. We will look at how guided tours are organised or composed and to what extent they provide an income and positive visibility for people in deprived areas. We will question what motivations and expectations people have and to what extent slum tours might be considered to be 'authentic' forms of holidays.

“We will also look at which stakeholders are involved in slum tourism and who profits most and how today's slum tourism relates to its historic predecessors and to the legacy of colonialism. We will consider the geographical scopes of slum tourism and where it fits in a globalised world of tourist consumption. We will also look at the relationship between slum tourism and issues of migration, democracy and (in) equality.”

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