Slum Tourism Debated

This piece ponders whether slum tourism in places like Dharavi and the favelas of Brazil is a valid form of cultural exchange or merely voyeuristic exploitation?
February 28, 2009, 7am PST | Nate Berg
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"Favela tours were a hard sell when Marcelo Armstrong introduced them in 1992; today, he and his seven guides average about 800 customers a month. In Dharavi, one of Asia's largest slums, Reality Tours and Travel co-founder Chris Way gives some five walking tours a day in peak season, up from two a week three years ago (although numbers dropped somewhat immediately following last November's attacks in Mumbai)."

"What may be an enriching experience to some, however, is deeply unsettling to others. Critics argue that some tours can be exploitive, where well-fed tourists gawk at the less fortunate. "We seem to feel the need to go anywhere, whether it's slums or the top of Mount Everest, as long as we can pay the fee," says David Fennell, professor of tourism and environment at Brock University in Ontario. But proponents claim they offer opportunities for cultural exchange and a chance for the disenfranchised to benefit from the tourist dollar through entrepreneurship. So, where exactly does a thoughtful traveler draw the line? Is slum tourism-or poorism, as it's sometimes called-a means of authentic travel or a form of voyeurism?"

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Published on Friday, February 27, 2009 in National Geographic Traveler
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