1. Changes over time
Although the initial offerings of Slum Tourism were on the whole extremely negative, over time significant changes initiated a chain of positive impacts on the ground.
One of the first changes registered was about the means of transportation. While in the beginning the tours were only offered on mini-buses or jeeps – hence the label ‘human safari’ given by the local residents – nowadays the walking tour seems to have become the preferred modality. Taken on foot or by bike a tour can allow, obviously, a much easier interaction and opens possibilities for more direct human connections.
Furthermore, the important role played by the workshops and hands-on activities that are available in some cases, or even the simple act of sharing a meal, have also increased the time spent with the hosts; this, consequently, has brought the opportunity to feel as a guest in someone else’s home, rather than as a distant observer in a strictly timed sightseeing schedule.
The presence of local guides has also become a must on the tours – offered and requested almost everywhere – which has facilitated the inclusion of a plurality of voices. Consequently, new narratives have been added to the picture, including, often, local problematic aspects, which are presented in realistic and solution-oriented and non-pity-demanding attitudes.
2. New protagonists on the horizon
But the greater change that has happened in the world of Slum Tourism, in my opinion, is without doubt the rise in the number of local actors owning or establishing their own tourism business and starting to work with external providers as protagonists.
Of course, this is a not a homogeneous process, and while in some cases it is well established, in other locations it has either not started yet, or it will likely never start.
In any case, wherever Community-Based Tourism (CBT) exists – i.e., where we can witness locally owned businesses, designed, managed and offered by the locals – that is where the possibilities for Slum Tourism to be a force for good are much higher.
However, even if CBT is not currently available in each and every existing experience of Slum Tourism, there are several things that responsible tourists can do to ensure that the tour they are embarking on won’t negatively impact the community and amplify the cultural and social stigma associated with that territory; rather, they can leave, instead, the seeds for sustainable alternative economic development and social improvement.
This is part of what I call ethical questioning.