'And, of course, we went to the shanty towns'
These days, right-on tourists visit the deprived side of cities because they want to do some good. They're fooling themseves, says Jeremy Atiyah
These days, it seems, no tour of a major world city is complete without delving into its slums. Not content with conventional tourist attractions such as monuments and museums, 'right-on' travellers are now turning up in shanty towns, ghettos and other areas of urban deprivation around the world.
Popular destinations include parts of
and the Bronx in
Mother Theresa's New York City ,
the favelas of Calcutta Rio
and some of the so-called "black townships" of Brazil such as South
outside Soweto . Johannesburg
The question is, why are tourists doing this? Does it spring from a heart- felt desire to contribute to the welfare of the city's poorest inhabitants? Or do people just go along for the entertainment?
The favourite big idea of some travellers - that a city's slums represent its "essence" - is a selective travesty. Certainly the East End of London has qualities that the cultural hotch-potch of the
does not. But this doesn't mean, of course, that visiting the East
End is going to earn anyone the gratitude of the
London Walks, a company specialising in tours of historic interest, conducts walks in areas such as Whitechapel and Brixton. "We go into areas like these because they are of historical interest, not because some people call them slums," says spokeswoman Mary Tucker. "We certainly don't take people on tours specifically to look at poor people."
Not everyone agrees. Fernando Carioca, who guides tourists around the favelas (shanty towns) of
, thinks tourists should
see his slum-dwellers. "Forty per cent of the population of Rio
de Janeiro Rio
live in favelas," he declares. "If you miss this you miss half the
city. It's only by seeing favelas with your own eyes that you'll understand
they aren't all about criminality. Normal people live there. Tourists should
know about things like that."
, where slums are supposed
to be off-limits to tourists, Harlem Penny Sightseeing Tours has been showing
tourists deprived areas of New
York City Harlem
for 30 years. "Black people didn't used to like white people coming in
here because we associated it with strangers taking our homes and jobs,"
says a spokeswoman. "But now it's more acceptable. Tourism brings money.
There are lots of new shops and restaurants around here."
But was it gawping tourists who brought in the money? Traveller Sarah Johnstone, who visited
a coach tour during a trip to Soweto , says her main emotion was
sheer embarrassment. "A lot of the people just went on the tour to be able
to brag about it to their friends afterwards. There was one guy running round
someone's dirty kitchen with a camcorder. It really did feel like voyeurism,
rich people looking at poor people. And I felt hostility towards us on the part
of the locals." South
But tourists by the coach-load are never an edifying spectacle, even in
Street or Knightsbridge. No
wonder the Sowetans didn't like them. What Sarah Johnstone's experience really
shows is that most of us are voyeurs. In which case, why not be proud of it?
Guy Moberly, travel photographer, finds slums fascinating - as slums. "I don't care what slum-dwellers think of me," he argues. "There's much more local flavour in a slum. In
the noise, the rudeness and aggression are quintessentially . And in, say, the slums of New
there's an intensity of experience you won't get elsewhere, even in Bombay .
The smell of shit and sewage, the collapsing shops, the incredibly rough
looking people. It's not nice, but seeing that was a much more powerful
experience than seeing the Taj Mahal." India