2017: Towards equal tourism participation and inclusive working environments: access, security and wellbeing  >  Tourism and poverty: from leakages to linkages?


Can Slum Tourism Ever be Considered Pro-poor? An Insight into Tours to Favela de Rocinha - Rio de Janeiro

Written by: Marples, Helen

University: Lincoln

Abstract: For years, many tourists have been opting to participate in slum tours in urban settlements in less economically developed countries. Whilst tourism has been argued to be tool for poverty alleviation, there have been many debates on whether slum tourism can be considered pro-poor due to the associated negative stigma of exploitation and voyeurism. Therefore, this paper will assess if slum tourism can be considered pro-poor in the case of favela de Rocinha, by assessing the pros and cons before using primary research to understand tourist perceptions on whether they considered themselves to be involved in poverty alleviation.

Key Words: Slum, Pro-poor, Poverty Alleviation, Leakage, Commodification

In a world of new tourism where people are seeking alternative experiences, slum tourism, which involves tourists flocking to poor, urban settlements has increased dramatically. It is believed tour operators have been the curators of this phenomenon, allowing people to experience poverty first hand (Frenzal, 2012). In a time where governments in LEDC’s are using tourism as a tool for poverty alleviation, it raises the question whether slum tourism also has these capabilities (WTO, 2002). An alternate name for this is ‘pro-poor tourism’. It is believed general tourism development has achieved this through the high economic spending and labour intensity of the industry which creates jobs and income (WTO, 2002). However, due to slum tourism having words such as ‘exploitation’ and ‘voyeurism’ associated with the activity, it has raised many debates on whether it can be considered pro-poor (Chok et al, 2007). Favela de Rocinha which is a slum in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil has been at the forefront of these debates due to the numbers of external tour guides, and also the tours featuring in many tourist guide books and blogs, leading it to gain a reputation of a tourist attraction. The tours in Rocinha have therefore been accused of commercialising poverty, and widening the gap between the rich and poor (Chok et al, 2007).

Despite this commercialisation, many have argued how it can still portray benefits. These have arisen through the direct opportunities presented to slum dwellers when tourists enter their communities. These communities often try to make a living though the production of traditional crafts, therefore access to tourists will enable them to sell these goods (WTO, 2002). Economic benefits can further be enhanced through the opportunity for employment either directly as tour guides (Chok et al, 2007), or indirectly in related sectors such as hotels and restaurants which allows the income generated by foreign exchange to trickle down into the communities (WTO, 2002). However, if the tours are not managed ethically, economic and social leakage will occur (Frenzel, 2012). Despite the employment opportunity, foreign investors own many of the tours and tourism establishments, meaning the profits cannot always be guaranteed to reach the communities (Chok et al, 2007). The main ethical debates have arisen through the accused commodification and exploitation of poverty through tourists wanting to experience ‘real’ cultures and living conditions (Frenzel, 2012).

To assess these benefits and consequences of slum tours in Rocinha, and the extent to which participation can be perceived as pro-poor, an interview was conducted with a tourist who has visited the favela. The main findings addressed the motivations and behaviours of tourists, the activities of the tour, the extent of local participation and perceptions of the extent of poverty alleviation. It was found that the tourist was initially motivated out of curiosity, exerting no pro-poor characteristics (Chok et al, 2007). However, post-tour, the voyeurism turned into a desire to help (Burgold and Rolfes, 2013). Despite acknowledgement of the importance of community participation, it was found that no locals were employed through the operator, and whilst tourists were given the opportunity to buy local produce, many did not, limiting foreign exchange and economic benefits (Frenzel, 2012). Instead the participant described commodified and exploitative behaviours through the gazing of people’s homes, and the purposive use of the most impoverished areas as the tour routes. The participant further explained how any benefits that were reaped through either the selling of goods, or employment in supporting sectors, was simply too low to be considered a tool for poverty alleviation (Frenzel, 2012).

It can be concluded that despite the arguments for slum tourism as a poverty alleviation strategy, it cannot be considered pro-poor in favela de Rocinha. Although some pro-poor principles were evident through the selling of goods, employment in supporting sectors, and the post-tour desire to help, due to the increasing commodification, these benefits are simply too small to outweigh the consequences. Whilst it is unlikely slum tours will ever be successful in alleviating poverty alone, research can be done to assess how they can be implemented into wider pro-poor initiatives, to reduce the negative stigma.

Key References:

Chok, S. Macbeth, J. and Warren, C. (2007) Tourism as a Tool for Poverty Alleviation: A Critical Analysis of Pro-Poor Tourism and Implications for Sustainability. In: Michael C Hall (ed.) Pro-poor tourism: Who benefits? Perspectives on tourism and poverty reduction. Clevedon: Channel View, 34-56.

Frenzal, F. (2012) Slum tourism in the context of the tourism and poverty (relief) debate. Journal of the Geographical Society of Berlin, 144 (2) 117-128.

World Tourism Organisation (WTO) (2002) Tourism and poverty alleviation. Madrid: World Tourism Organisation.

"Slum tour" and "Homestay" community-based tourism (CBT) as tools to alleviate poverty

Written by: Saisuk, Wilaiporn

University: Lincoln

The main reason for chosen to comment on this discussion paper due to the similar interest of using tourism as a tool of alleviated poverty. The discussion paper presents a clear objective of assessing whether or not slum tourism can be considered as pro-poor tourism by firstly evaluating the pros and cons, then to use primary research to try and understand the tourist perception; whether or not they see themselves to be part in poverty alleviation.

Today slum tours are sold as an alternative to traditional tourism and a more realistic form of experiencing a country – getting in touch with real people and the local culture. Due to the change of today society whereby people are now seeking more than just a beautiful beach resort experience but more of alternative ones including slum; tourism and community-based tourism. Which Tour operator made it available for tourist to experience poverty at first-hand experience (Frenzal, 2012). The interview that was conducted by the tourism concern with the local residence shows case that the slum tour in Rocinha has brought no change within the community. However, the tour operator demanded that their tours are beneficial to the poverty alleviation. The actual benefits reach a small just percentage of the community and are mainly directed to the ones involved with selling souvenirs or handicrafts (Tourism Concern, 2014).

Although, the author presented and excellence pros and cons of the slum tourism, the paper feel in some way concentrate on the tourist's perception rather than the local community. This may be the next step for the author to improve for an even better research that already produced.

Slum tourism is not as effective due to the question that remains of “is there a way that slum as a tourism product could ever be ethical enough to help alleviate poverty in that destination? Lastly, if the local community has control of the tourism activities and benefits from tourism then maybe this could develop a and lasting benefits to the community and alleviate poverty (Unwto, 2010; Tourism concern, 2014).


Frenzal, F. (2012) Slum tourism in the context of the pverty (relief) debate. Journal of the Geographical Society of Berlin, 144 (2) 117-128.

Tourism Concern (2014) Action for Ethical Tourism: Slum Tourism. Available from https://www.tourismconcern.org.uk/slum-tourism/ [accessed 19th May].

UNWTO (2010) Poverty Alleviation Through Tourism: A Compilation of Good Practices .