This study discusses how tourists reflect their experience of visiting some of the poorest areas of the globe in a guided tour. Slum tourism is a rising touristic practice that connects the two distinct worlds of poverty and tourism, making it a very interesting phenomenon to research. This thesis analyses the tourists’ experiences of Manilla, Kibera, and Belen slums in TripAdvisor reviews and travel blogs. It followed a qualitative thematic analysis of 337 reviews and 11 blogs posts. Several debates are prevalent in academia that position slum tourism as voyeuristic and as an exploitation of the poor. However, it is also asserted to enhance the life quality of the slum dwellers, to bring economic developments and other non-material benefits, challenging the voyeurism critiques. Slum tours provide the tourists an encounter with the authentic, unspoiled, and uncorrupted by modernity. If slums are carriers of authenticity, they at the same time are significant of post-colonial tourism discourses of “othering”. In this sense, visitors feel motivated with a search for authenticity, but also to contribute and get educated to the “others” reality. Different authors researched how tourists frame slums as places of hope, progress, and self-development in TripAdvisor, neglecting the attention to real problems and need for structural changes. Tour guides are argued to twist the representation of the slums’ reality, complacent with narratives of hope, romanticizing and normalizing extreme poverty. The present thesis highlights that the tourists are attentive to the harsh reality of the slums. Although reflecting on their experience as challenging, authentic, unvarnished, and incredible, they did not fail in recognizing the need for structural changes in slums. Findings show that tourists left the slums “enlightened” and “humbled”, valuing their own privileged lives. Their slum experience left them attentive to the huge disparities prevalent in the world and with desires to contribute in any way possible, not sharing a view of a “romanticized poverty”. However, this narrative is also implied as an attempt to ease their uneasy feeling of being tourists in a place of death, filth, and starvation. In this sense, a negotiation about the ethical value of their experience was constantly questioned in their discourse. Still, narratives of doing the “right thing” were frequent, acknowledging the two-ended benefits of the tours. The guides are argued to be important pieces in a slum experience, defending their first-hand knowledge and active role in the slums´ development. The analysis highlighted that their experience was authentic and not considered voyeuristic, and slums were framed as places of interesting cultural expressions, hope, happiness, hard work, but of huge inequalities and injustice. Guided tours were, in this regard, very informative and educational, framed as a step in the right direction, and as mean to contribute in some way.

Siri Driessen
Tourism, Culture & Society
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication

Vasco Dias de Sousa. (2023, August). Guided Poverty - Slums Through the Eyes of a Tourist. Tourism, Culture & Society. Retrieved from