To round off and truly complete the answer to our initial question, there is something else that we need to include on the list.
If we want to ensure that our journey is an opportunity for an ethical and responsible experience, we have a big role to play as tourists, first by demanding proof from the tour operator, but also, by taking responsibility for ourselves and our choices when we travel.
We have observed the local social and cultural conditions, have done our desk-research, and asked questions of the tourism providers, but to close the circle we also need to question our own personal motivations.
Even before posing crucial questions to the external actors, as tourists we should move inwards and realise why we would like to embark on an experience in a slum in the first place.
Beyond the practical and material aspects of a journey, we should be internally prepared as well.
According to the Transformational Travel Council (TTC) this should happen during the preparation stage, when we start planning our journey and imagining the places we want to include. It happens right at the beginning of our adventure, when we plant the seed to make the trip a meaningful experience. In the Transformational Travel Journal the guide, and roadmap, assembled to “harness the power of travel to create personal growth and make a positive impact on the world” – the preparation stage includes all those questions we do not automatically associate with tourism.
The journal invites us – in a poetic and engaging way – to reflect on the fact that each journey starts at home, with questioning our own intentions.
This inner journey that the TTC refers to is the first step towards a transformational experience, because it will allow us to unveil our own beliefs and, sometimes with surprising results, also our preconceptions about the place we want to visit and the reasons that motivate us.
It only takes awareness, and it starts with self-awareness
I strongly believe that the simple choice of a tour while on holiday can challenge and deconstruct some of our ideas and assumptions, which lose their tarmac-solid and immovable appearance when we look at them consciously.
Any experience engaged in while we travel – including through Slum Tourism – if faced with a blank-page attitude of mind, curiosity, and an openness to listen and learn, can be of great help to us in understanding more of the contradictions that populate our world.
If you are sincerely curious and honestly interested to see people living in poverty, we should ask ourselves, what do you define as ‘poverty’?
In Dharavi, for example, the biggest Asian slum, which is in Mumbai, the annual turnover is $650 million; in South Africa and Brazil many slums have flourishing local economies and are inspiring laboratories of social innovation. Are we ready to expand the concept of poverty and include other factors and angles into the picture, and other interpretations?
Tourism done ethically could support genuine efforts to improve the inhabitants’ quality of life, because it accompanies the constant flow of change that is part of life. A slum is a form of societal organisation and tourism can contribute in a healthy way to its improvement. This, though, cannot happen if tourism pretends to fix and frame a reality as a product.
Ethical tourism adapts and supports the local economy and local businesses, and Slum Tourism – as many grassroots examples show us today – can be ethical and contribute to local sustainable development, economically, socially, culturally and also environmentally.
To conclude, I would like to share a list of attitudes that can help visitors to transform their experience in a slum into one that is deeply meaningful, both for them as well as for their hosts.
Prepare your journey
Ask those important ethical questions, of yourself and of the tourism providers you are contacting.
Observe with a student mind
Notice in the moment how, when you assume a judgemental perspective on what you see, it is based on your expectations, previous experience, and own social and cultural background. Stay open and re-set.
Act as a guest
Remember that when we travel, we are always guests in other people’s homes.
Interact as a grateful and curious human being
Travel is a great opportunity to connect with different cultures and people from remote places, and a privilege that not everyone has. Be conscious of this, and use it to improve and grow spiritually as a human being.
Enjoy the journey!
The external, as well as the internal one.