Origins of Township Tourism

By Walter Ndlovu

In the mid-1990s, a form of tourism has been established in metropolises of several socalled “developing countries” or “emerging nations”. The concept became popular in Brazil, India and South Africa where they are packaged as authentic, interactive and educational in nature. The essential part of this tourism is a visit to the most disadvantaged parts of these cities. It is mainly organised in form of guided tours through those areas, often called “slums”.. As defined by Spenceley community tourism is “tourism which is owned and/or managed by communities with the aim of generating wider community benefit”. The main aim of community tourism should be to improve the residents’ quality of life by maximizing local economic benefits, protecting the natural and built heritage and providing a high quality of experiences for the visitors. It also aims at giving visitors personal contact with the physical and human environment of the countryside and allow them to participate in the activities, traditions and lifestyles of the local people.

Today a lot of the tours are operated and marketed by professional companies. But a large number of informal businesses also exist. Slum tours are offered on a relatively large scale in the South African cities such as Johannesburg and Cape Town, the Indian metropolises Calcutta, Mumbai and Delhi as well as Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, to name the most important places. Target group of these tours are primarily international tourists. The number of slum tourists is constantly increasing: It is estimated that 40,000 visit Rio de Janeiro each year, while in Cape Town the figure is even assumed to be around 300,000. Guided tours into the slums are slowly becoming a standard in the city tourism of the “developing countries” or “emerging nations”. The terms used to describe this phenomenon are very disparate. In academic articles, some authors call them “social tours” or “reality tours”, because a number of these tours are explicitly presented by their operators as being “authentic” and as possessing strong interactive features. They promise the tourists experiences “off the beaten path”. Other authors tag these tours as a form of “cultural tourism” or “ethnic tourism” and often emphasize their educational aspect. Here, the possibility of a cultural exchange is highlighted. On the other hand, terms like “poverty tourism” and “poorism” express the morally dubious socio-voyeuristic aspects. The term “slumming” is also used in the context of critical tourism research. Especially reports in the media often criticize the valorization and marketing of marginal settlements, slums, favelas or townships as tourist attracttions.

In Zimbabwe, recent studies, have shown that despite the country’s reliance on natural and heritage resources, the new breed of tourists wants to have a more intimate relationship with the communities in the countries they visit.

Its no longer a thrill of big five, but rather ‘to meet real people, witness how they live and experience their current state of development and cultural heritage. Culture based tourism such as township tours are better alternative to the traditional nature-based tourism because it has been found to be more sustainable, it cannot be substituted and is participatory particularly for the communities being visited. Study has revealed that tourists are searching for unique experiences that are personalised and offer high quality service delivery with local residents also benefiting. Township tourism is recognised as a key driver of the economy in Zimbabwe and has been targeted as strategic in the country’s drive for economic growth and development.


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