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Slum Tourism: Shanty Town Tours In Brazil, India, South Africa Give Travelers Glimpse At Poverty; Raise Ethical Questions

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SLUM TOURISM
Tourists visit the Santa Marta 'favela' (shantytown) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on July 15, 2011. The government-supported 'Rio Top Tour' project aims to train Santa Marta residents as local guides to show the shantytown to tourists in guided visits. | Getty

If the delights of Caribbean beaches, European cities or our National Parks have lost their appeal -- you could join the increasing number of tourists choosing to visit some of the world's poorest slums on their vacations.

The trend for tourists from wealthy countries to visit slums in countries like India, Brazil and South Africa has been steadily increasing over the last few years.

The practice, however, has stirred a great deal of controversy, with critics accusing the industry of "turning poverty into entertainment."

Proponents of the industry argue, however, that ignoring poverty will not make it go away. Harold Goodwin, director of the International Center for Responsible Tourism in Leeds, England told the New York Times "Tourism is one of the few ways that you or I are ever going to understand what poverty means. To just kind of turn a blind eye and pretend the poverty doesn’t exist seems to me a very denial of our humanity."

Some of the most significant questions asked about the ethics of slum tourism are who runs the tours and where do the profits go? BBC News profiled a slum tour business run by Krishna Pujari. His company takes visitors into Dharavi, in Mumbai, India - arguably the biggest slum in Asia.

He explains how his company is a social business with 80% of all profits given to its sister organisation - the charity Reality Gives.

"We do we do this because a large percentage of our income is generated through the Dharavi tours and we felt that it was right to put most of the money back," Mr Pujari asserts.

There are however, also large, for-profit travel companies that have begun operating slum tours in order to meet rising demand.

Other issues have presented themselves, like how respectful tour companies and the tourists they bring are to the people and places they are visiting. BBC Travel cites the example of one visitor to the Cape Town, South Africa township of Khayelitsha:

"We stopped several times along the way and talked with local people who were evidently pleased to see us,” he said.
But while he was there, chatting with a local woman, a large tour bus drove by, filled with a horde of picture-snapping tourists, as if, the woman remarked, they were on safari.

(Philanthropy Indaba has a list of questions you can use to vet philanthropic tour companies here.)

The motivations of tourists visiting slums are also a source of controversy. A 2010 study by the University of Pennsylvania of tourists visiting the Dharavi slum in Mumbai showed that visitors were motivated mainly by curiosity, as opposed to factors like social comparison, entertainment, education, or self-actualization.

The study also found that common periods for slum tourism are Christmas and Valentine's Day which, critics claim, shows that the tours are to make wealthy westerners feel good about themselves. Many western tourists vacation without family at these times.

Do you think it is appropriate for wealthy travelers to visit slums as a tourist activity? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Editor's note: Links to tour companies in this article do not represent an endorsement on the part of The Huffington Post or the author. They are for informational purposes only.

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