“Authentic” tourism

Titilayo over at gallimaufry has an interesting post on the edgy side of tourism.

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a guy from Argentina and he mentioned staying at a hotel in Brazil and seeing that their lists of activities for guests included a “ghetto tour”, a guided trip through one of the nearby favelas. Apparently slum tours of that sort are moving from being a novelty and becoming a recognised niche product: poverty tourism, also dubbed “poorism”, is growing in popularity amongst visitors to developing countries like Brazil, India and South Africa (although the South Africa tour doesn’t seem to be actively exploiting the poverty aspect as much as the others).

What’s interesting to me about this is that this is the dark side of what I’ve often been preaching here at home, where tourism is controlled by huge conglomerates that cluster along the best beaches and block our view of the ocean God gave us, and where relatively little of the tourist revenue makes its way into people’s pockets. I’ve been talking about the demand for “authenticity” in the tourist product, which is a rising demand, and one that certainly occupies much of the mainstream of the wealthier tourists, so much so that the Ministry of Tourism has begun to notice. I have long criticized our tourist product for being exclusively outwardly-focussed, for misunderstanding and misrepresenting what makes us us, seeking instead safe ways of packaging ersatz bits and pieces of performative culture (Junkanoo in the summer, hello) for “the tourists”, and have suggested that what “the tourists” really want is the illusion that they have touched the real life that can be called Bahamian.

There’s a thin, thin line between “authenticity” and “poorism”, though; and the arguments are not easy to resolve. They are uncomfortable — the whole idea is uncomfortable — but there’s a little more to it; this is a Dalmatian of a problem, not something that’s either black or white. You see, “poorism” does for the inner cities of many so-called developing countries what tourism has not yet done — it puts tourist dollars directly into the pockets of the people who well may need them the most.

But you decide.

Here’s an account from the Globe and Mail

Here’s the comment that titilayo’s riffing off of

Here’s a completely different point of view

Here’s how it’s done in the States

Township tourism in South Africa

3 thoughts on ““Authentic” tourism”

  1. I am from harbour island, and up there I will tell you, a huge part of the tourist product has been the fact that the environment in harbour island is such that many visitors can comfortably intermingle with and befriend locals, particularly kids and young visitors and natives who often befriend each other, this is because untill recently tourim though well established on the island has remained on a small scale and personal scale, but increased numbers and an emerging situation of ghettoisation of locals on our own island has led to a shift , as many families are now croweded into smaller areas due to property price hikes, a tension is emerging, still tourists and natives dance and exchange conversation at the nightspots and local restaurant it is what makes harbour Island suceccful and is why cameron diaz and richard gere can walk down the street here and feel safe and comfrotable. The Development and tourism strategy of the current government sill shatter this sustainable and mutally beneficial economy, by large scale condo and marina projects, and systematic neglect of local housing infrastructure and education needs! ‘poorism’ will repalce authenticity, and may become impossible as violence boils in Nassau’s ghettos and as people around the Bahamas of hatian and of bahamian decent are ghettoised by poor policy, tourism’s authenticity will be impossible as security of visitors becomes a priority.

  2. Ever wonder why on earth Atlantis features an Aztec Pyramid with a water slide running through it. Perhaps nobody bothered to tell them that the original inhabitants here were LUCAYANS, not Aztecs. Or maybe the Aztecs migrated to Mexico from the lost continent?

    The disconnect between tourist destinations and the authentic heritage of the countries that host them is like the difference between night and day.

  3. My spring and summer job is to take boy scouts out sailing on the Sea of Abaco, a week at a time. Naturally I take them to the cays and settlements, show them the reefs and beaches, give them something of the history of the place. The kids come from rural and suburban Middle America. It is a whole new world for them.

    One thing I often tell them is “I wish our week included a tour of the Haitian squatter settlements in Marsh Harbour. You guys would see poverty that you haven’t imagined, and you would see that racism doesn’t always have to do with the color of one’s skin.”

    But touring them would be easier said than done. One fine Sunday morning two or three years ago, I decided to go on a long walk. I circled around the back side of The Peas, saw some Haitians leaving church dressed in their Sunday best, and followed them down the footpath into their settlement.

    Now I’ve walked more than one slum in Mexico and Central America, so nothing here was at all alarming to me. But the man who was the leader of the group of Haitians in front of me had other ideas. He turned and asked “Are you from America?”

    Well, duh! I’m tall, white, blond; wearing khaki shorts, t-shirt, and sandals; and having the erect posture and open gaze of a man who is accustomed to getting his own way. No need for the neon sign flashing “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

    I simply replied “Yes.” He said “You’re not welcome here.” It was as simple as that. What could I say? I turned around and walked back out the way I came.

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