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How Community Tours Can Create Positive Change in Urban Neighborhoods

Responsible Tourism


Since the beginning of the first urban community tourism initiatives, the idea has been controversial. ‘Slum visits’ in Brazil, India and South Africa are often compared with safaris and zoos. Those who are against this type of poverty tourism say that it’s disrespectful to the local community – and they are right.

Though tourism that is not carried out in a respectful, dignifying, and cautious way causes harm to urban communities, there is a case to be made for urban community tourism done right.

Urban community tourism truly has the power to transform a neighborhood. However, for an urban tourism initiative to be successful, it must fully engage the community and directly involve as many people as possible. How exactly does community tourism bring change to an urban neighborhood?

Income and Jobs

The most obvious way that community tourism benefits a neighborhood with social and economical issues is by creating jobs. In the Complexo do Alemão favela in Rio de Janeiro, a fantastic project has been set up by community leaders. Through bringing visitors into the community to experience the food and culture of the area, it has generated enough income to benefit the entire community and to keep local restaurants and other establishments thriving.

The impact of this newly found cash flow into a struggling community goes beyond immediate employment. When members of the community spend the money they’ve earned within the neighborhood, local businesses continue to be supported. Over time, improvements can be made to different aspects of the neighborhood as the people within it flourish.

In addition to bringing a new source of income to existing establishments within a community, urban community tourism can create new jobs. Locals can become tour guides, assist with administrative duties, and more! By training their own tour guides a community tourism project can also fulfil an educational purpose, teaching new skills.

Self Esteem

Many urban communities around the world are perceived negatively by the general public. Many are seen as ‘no go areas’, with nothing but crime and violence. These perceptions can affect a community’s mindset- after all, if people are constantly confronted with a certain image of themselves, chances are they start to believe it.

Community Tourism (done well) invites outsiders to focus their attention on the positive side of a neighborhood. No matter what challenges a community might face, there is beauty, adventure, and culture to be found. Locals involved with urban community tourism initiatives begin to see their own neighborhood in a different light, as they begin to show and explain to visitors what it is that makes their community special.

Seeing experienced travelers marvel at the history, architecture, creativity and spirit of a place that is known as a ‘slum’ within its own society holds so much power in changing how the locals view their home.

Benefits for Travelers

For travelers, a visit to an urban community means getting much closer to understanding the “real” culture of an area. Away from the sanitized environments of big chain resorts and hotels, travelers will experience both the positive and negative sides of everyday life for community members. This breeds understanding, empathy, and positive connections between travelers and members of the local community.

It is a chance for everyone involved to end prejudiced thinking. The visitor gets to compare their preconceived notions about a community and its people to the real deal. Locals gain a connection to a world outside their own, as well, creating a beautiful exchange of culture and ideas.

Urban Community Tourism For A Better Future

These community tours give urban neighborhoods the chance to change their circumstances from the inside out. A community, if fully in control of the touristic activities within it, gains an opportunity to invest in its future.

This post is a contribution by Freddy Gomes. He is involved in Community Tourism initiatives in Mindelo, Cape Verde and the founder of Sonvela Arte, a social Street Art project that connects physical transformation of urban streetscapes to tourism initiatives, stimulating long-term local development.

Stay tuned for more articles on responsible tourism initiatives!

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