With the Olympic Games underway in Rio, more international tourists are electing to stay in favelas, according to France 24. In the video, four French tourists elect to stay in a favela hostel, rather than a upscale hotel in downtown Rio. “It’s a little small for four, but there’s a bunk-bed on each side. We were expecting something more run-down, less colorful. This feels joyful,” explained one Frenchman.
“Slum tourism,” as it is traditionally called, isn’t new in Rio. For the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, thousands of activists, journalists, and politicians came to the city to discuss sustainability. Brazilian military police attempted to block entrances of the city’s favelas in order to keep impoverished residents inside and tourists out. Tourists who came for the conference were intrigued at the mass amount of security, and met with tour operators to move past the military. Shortly after, favela tours skyrocketed in the Rio and Bahia.
The roots of slum tourism lie in England. Beginning in 1840, rich London residents began wandering into the city’s impoverished east end, under the impression of charity and with a police escort accompanying them along the way. Upper class visitors to poorer areas were frequently referred to as “slummers” and “slumming” (visiting a slum) became a popular pastime.
In the 1880s, rich British tourists, anxious to compare London’s east end slums to those in America, began to practice slumming abroad. Slum tour operations were developed in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco specifically for the wealthy; by this time, the guise of humanitarianism dissipated, instead becoming a source of exhibition for the upper class to see immigrants living in squalid conditions.
Slum tourism re-emerged during South African apartheid in the 1990s; Black South Africans living in oppressive, segregated, and heavily dilapidated shantytowns were determined to shed light on systematic racism and global human rights violations. The apartheid regime, in response, also started conducting slum tours of their own to international tourists.
While slum tours are said to provide an “economic” boost to favelas, its classist implications, and questioning the intentions of outsiders visiting them, cannot be excluded from the conversation. One also has to wonder exactly what economic benefits slum tourism is bringing to favelas in the outcome of the Olympic Games, particularly since there is a visible lack of government investment in security, education, and healthcare within said communities.
Currently, the country is under mass protests after the impeachment of its President, Dilma Rouseff, on corruption charges. An overwhelming amount of public services are not being given to those on the outskirts of Rio, prompting many to question who the Olympic Games is for. Racial violence is also on a astronomical high within the favelas, as an outcome of Afro-Brazilians lacking access to security and gating being killed by military police.