Voyeurism is often a key component of tourism, especially when well-off Westerners go amongst African tribes or to Vietnamese villages so as to widen their “anthropological horizons” and experience something “authentic”, something different from what they usually see while traipsing around neatly arrayed urban landscapes. The essential difference being that such communities are, in effect, poverty stricken. Today more and more tourists travel just to witness others’ miserable living standards, although – truth be told – we can’t claim it being the sole reason. Many will say that being confronted with others who are different raises social awareness, strengthens the local economy, and motivates some people to bona fide action upon returning home – in view of donating funds, committing themselves to financing a child’s education, lobbying for improvement of living conditions in Third World countries or at the very least buying fair trade products from the poorer regions. However, such individuals are rare. More frequently, it’s about a pitiful shake of the head caused by the harsh fate of others. They take a few pictures, come home with a good story for their friends and soon enough forget about everything. Poverty is thus reduced to a mere tourist package. Instead of deep-sea diving in the Caribbean or partying it up in San Francisco, you can get a taste of what it feels like to be poverty-stricken for a few days.
*Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
The New York Times dubbed this “slum tourism” placing its roots back to the late 19th century when wealthy New Yorkers went on field trips to the eastern part of town to check out how the less fortunate live. However, with the development of tourism and a larger number of a well-off urban population, who has traveled enough to become fed up with developed countries where globalization has left its mark, slumming is progressively becoming the latest trend in tourism. For the most part, destinations include Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, followed by Mumbai thanks to the box-office hit “Slumdog Millionaire”, and are naturally rounded up with – Africa.
Exploitation has come so far that a New York Times journalist from Kibera, the largest African slum situated in Nairobi, Kenya, where a million people live within 2.5 square meters, reported that she saw a group of tourists ogling an African woman in childbirth all the while filming it with their camcorder. The journalist claims that such an aspect of tourism is a one-way street; the tourists get an exotic photo-documented experience, while the locals are left empty-handed in addition to suffering a loss of dignity. There’s no real reciprocal interaction going on here, it’s more like a human safari, with people in lieu of animals.
Slumming is a part of many a tourist agency’s programme package. In Croatia, for example, one could go slumming in the Roma communities in Međimurje where people live in probably the worst conditions in the country. The Slovaks have already come up with a similar idea. Tourists were offered a tour of ‘the typical Roma community’.