Slum tourism: The fine line between aid and exploitation

Dharavi, Image: Reality Tours

There are now companies specialising in visiting impoverished areas of third world countries. While these tours can sometimes raise money, they also raise eyebrows. Alice Orszulok reports.

Transcript

REPORTER: Come summer time, Kate Dunse was not interested in taking any of the traditional holidays on exotic island beachside locations. She was looking for something more, something that you can’t get on the seafront of Queensland’s Goldcoast, or even at the top of the Eiffle tower in Paris. Kate wanted a more earthy experience, however she got more than she bargained for when her last vacation took her to the poorest communities of India.

KATE DUNSE: It was extremely interesting but yes, I guess it was also distressing, especially when you consider coming from Australia, you know, we probably treat our animals better than what the conditions of a lot of these people are living in, and that was a huge eye opener. That was very distressing, you know you kind of feel a it ashamed that we do spend so much money on our pets, when people are living in rubbish dumps and scavenging for food.

REPORTER: This controversial trend has been dubbed “slum tourism,” and is one of the fastest-growing niche tourism segments in the world. A Core Member of Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Research Centre, Jennie Smalls, says:

JENNIE SMALLS: Slum tourism is visitation to slums in different parts of the world, where tourists view the conditions and the people living in the slums. Sometimes that’s for profit, and the profit sometimes goes to, well back to the operator but sometimes part of it also goes to the residents of those slums.”

REPORTER: Six years ago in India, Krishna Pujari and his British friend Chris Way began Reality Tours and Travel, to organise tours in Dharavi. With a population of 1 million and area covering 1.7 km, Dharavi is the largest slums located in Central prime location of Mumbai, India. Last year alone between 10,000 and 12,000 tourists joined a reality tour.

REPORTER: Slum tours start at $54, and are typically three hours long guided tours done on foot or in a vehicle. Most tours offer tourists the chance to enter the homes or businesses of slum residents, where a guide, fluent in English, would describe the experience of slum life.

KATE DUNSE: The moment you enter the place, you immediately notice that there is so much happening around, it’s a busy market place, but apart from that factories, shops, houses, and just people everywhere.

REPORTER: According to Reality Tours, one of the main objectives of the program is to break down the negative attitudes that many people have towards people from less developed communities- particularly the slums. Adina Goerke, part of Reality Tours Marketing department, says:

ADINA GOERKE: 95 per cent of our customers are foreigners, it is really interesting for them since they expect something totally else from the tour, many of them are really skeptical at the beginning but still curious. Part of the tour is to show them a totally different face, to show them the enormous economical power of Dharavi and the conditions that people live in and the enormous will and their spirit of community in Dharavi. It changes a lot about the image people have towards slums.

REPORTER: Adina explains how the company is a social business, with 80% of all profits given to its sister organisation – the charity Reality Gives.

ADINA GOERKE: Reality Gives has different activities in Dharavi, in education, health care and environment. We also work with other NGOs who already have established projects in Dharavi and we support them and connect them to our tour customers who would like to get more involved.

JENNIE SMALLS: One ethical viewpoint is that it is giving a financial contribution to the people that are living there, and that tourists can actually see for themselves what the slums are like, and can become better educated about that, and maybe it affects their future lives and what they contribute to society themselves, but on the opposite side there’s the negative issue of it becoming exploitation and just looking at people living in poverty.

KATE DUNSE: I guess in that way it makes you think: Are we exploiting these people by coming on these sorts of tours? I don’t know, I think that’s something you really need to think about.

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