Friday Sound-Off: Is Slum Tourism a Good or Bad Thing?

LAST UPDATED: 4/21/23 – Is Slum Tourism Good or Bad?

Slum Tourism
Slum tourism draws over 1 million tourists ever year.

It is a major tourism draw that brings in over a million tourists a year.  Mumbai, New Delhi, LA, Detroit, Copenhagen, and Berlin are all seeing tourists flock to their city to participate.  They aren’t visiting to see world class museums, or theme parks, or historical sites.  These tourists are flocking to these cities to visit the slums.

Ever since the movie Slumdog Millionaire became a major box office success, people have been flocking to Mumbai’s Dharavi slum to see for themselves.  The movie didn’t spur the creation of the Dharavi slum tours, but it did amplify the demand for the tours.  And that amplification has been massive.

Slum tourism, as it is often called, isn’t anything new.  All the way back in the 19th Century, wealthy aristocrats in London and New York would visit the disadvantaged areas of the city to view the slums.  It just so happens that this increased curiosity in the slums of the cities coincided with the invention of photography.

As images of these impoverished areas began to circulate, people started to become curious and wanted to see for themselves.  This curiosity has never abated, as this curiosity has only grown exponentially as photography, video, and the media has grown.

Today, these slum tours consist of visits to schools, education centers, and other sites where non-profit organizations are working with these communities.  The goal is to show tourists what is being done to better these communities, and show tourists what they can do to assist.

Slum Tourism
Slum tour companies often show tourists what is being done to assist these poorer communities and tell them how they can assist.

So this leads us to the question of whether this slum tourism is a good or bad thing?  I am sure some slum tour operators would argue that these tours bring attention to neighborhoods that are desperately in need to assistance.  However, others would argue that none of the money from these tours usually makes it back into these neighborhoods.

Personally, we don’t like these tours.  To us it feels as though these people are being used.  Sure, it does bring some much needed attention to these impoverished neighborhoods, but we aren’t sure it is actually affecting any real change in these communities.  A vast majority of the money being generated by slum tour operators never actually makes it back to the people who live there.

Slum Tourism India
Some people question how much of the money made from slum tourism actually makes it back into these poorer communities.

What are your thoughts?  Do you think slum tourism is a good or bad thing?  Do you think it is helping or exploiting these communities?  What better ways can we assist those in these communities who are less fortunate?  We want to hear from you.

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Categories: Friday Sound-Offs, General Travel, Opinions, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I agree with you. I don’t think all attention is good attention… If you want to volunteer or donate to an organization that really works in these neighbourhoods, then do so. But tours…nah.

  2. I detest this form of travel. It does nothing to help the people of the slums. The tour operators have no interest in improving their conditions … because then there’d be nowhere for them to tour.

  3. I don’t know I’m torn. I’m from South Africa and we have township tours in our informal settlements and I know that some of the tour guides live in the township. This creates work in a country where unemployment is super high. Plus township’s like Soweto are a part of South Africa’s history and are becoming more developed partly because of tourism. It can be used for good but it depends on whether the community benefits from these tours. Taking a tour doesn’t mean travellers will end up volunteering. It’s a tricky question to answer.

  4. I had no idea this was a thing. To me it doesn’t seem like a good thing. Impoverished people aren’t entertainment. If people are touring with the hope they are helping then it would be far better to research good local organizations who are there helping to lift people out of poverty.
    I volunteered on a small island in Honduras as a teacher for five months. Water and food were a luxury to a lot of the people. I can guarantee they would have posed for the cameras in order to try to get food or money but their self-esteem and worth would have been diminished by being used as entertainment. I applaud the people who intend to help but don’t feel this is the best way.

    • I agree with you 100%. When I first learned about this on a trip, I was disturbed. Advocates would argue it helps these communities, but I question how much of the $$ ever makes it back to these people. When I travel, I prefer to give back in much more direct ways 😀

      • It would be hard for me to believe much money ever makes it back. I don’t mean to be distrusting but experience and age has taught me the kind of people who exploit these communities don’t generally have the best intentions. Personally I couldn’t tour these places without my heart breaking in a million pieces. Their needs would keep me up at night trying to figure out what I could do to help.

      • I agree Sheri. And I am the same way. Breaks my heart.

  5. This form of tourism connects groups of people who would likely never interact. Rather than looking at a sole financial return, people in these rough spots are receiving human attention, interaction and smiles, versus receiving no human interaction from anyone outside of their home neighborhood. This could beat being completely ignored, de-humanized and victimized by more prospering people. However, it’d be swell if tour operators offered a % of profits to empowering causes for the neighborhood residents.

    Ultimately Josh, you, me and all readers cannot see the world through their eyes so we have no idea how this tourism feels to them. Perhaps they love receiving attention from humans outside of the hood, independent of the form of attention. We would only know by interviewing a local….which would be an awesome idea.

    Thought-provoking post here. Thank you for sharing with us 🙂


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