“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

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