In a lot of countries, tourism is a leading factor for economic development. Tourism accounts for an estimated 9% of the worlds gross domestic product (gdp) and about 220 million people are employed in the tourism sector. The development of tourism into one of the largest industrial sectors generated high expectations regarding it’s potential for development. Tourism was always seen as a way to boost local or regional economies and create jobs, but it was only in the last few years that it’s true potential has come to light. Today, the focus of tourism-development lies in it’s capability to be sustainable and reduce poverty all around the world.

So let’s first try to understand the tourism sectors advantages and disadvantages when it comes to it’s capabilities as a motor for development.

The advantages first

  • First off, tourism is a growing industry, and by growing I mean that international tourism transformed from being a tiny little spec in world economy just 50-60 years ago to being one of the most powerful socio-economic drivetrains there is. Of course it had it’s up and downs, but the general direction is clear: GROWTH
  • Unlike many other economy sectors it is not hindered by traditional trading borders. The main obstacles for tourism are visaregulations and -costs but aside from that, the world is open for all travellers. This comes down to tourism just being a different form of direct investment into other countries, most of them in dire need to replenish their state budget.
  • This basically states that tourism increases the wealth of a target nation. It acts as just another form of transferring funds to less developed, poorer regions that would otherwise have a hard time competing in the international market. Tourists visit a country, pay a nice sum of money for accomodation, food and activities and go back home again. Sounds perfectly easy, right?
  • But there is more to it than being an easy form of direct investment. Tourism is a sector that generally requires a lot of people looking after every need of the beloved tourist. So it creates jobs, a lot of them! Especially countries with high unemployment profit a lot from tourism because it gets a lot of people involved in all kinds of jobs related to the industry.
  • The creation of jobs in basically every sector then influences other industries as well, because suddenly you’ve got a lot more goods and services that everyone else in the country can utilize as well. Bravo!
  • Furthermore you have an industry that doesn’t need a lot of initial investment, because it is generally based on natural or cultural resources that already exist. Take Machu Pichu for example, the sight was already there, the only big development costs you have are basically into providing an infrastructure for the tourists. And what about beautiful coastlines, mountain ranges, woods or lakes, everything already there, ready to be harvested.
  • So the only thing that you need to accommodate tourism is infrastructure. Hey, guess who could use infrastructure anyways: third world countries. So with increasing tourism and developing infrastructure like a proper roadnetwork and clean drinking water, you’re helping people in remote areas that would have been excluded from the countries development if it weren’t for the travellers. Boojah!

Sounds Awesome!

EXACTLY! But that would all be too good to be true without having some backdraws. Tourism is by far not the magic bullet to solve all the problems. Though the theory looks solid, research shows that growth in the tourism sector doesn’t necessarily reduce poverty over all. And this can be attributed to multiple of the following factors:

  • Firstly, tourism is part of the market economy. This basically means that it is really vulnerable to international market fluctuations. Different travel destinations are dependent on global demand and price fluctuations of all kinds. The more you base your countries economy on tourism the more vulerable you are, period. A lot of countries have become so vulnerable that small decreases in tourism can hurt their economy badly. Big decreases even more, as experienced after the financial crisis 2007-2008.
  • In addition to the international market fluctuations, political instability and security concerns play a big part in international tourism. After 9/11 the number of tourists plummeted by 0,5% fort he first time in years. Furthermore it’s the third world countries that are prone to political instability and security problems so it’s questionable if tourism ist he way to go to boost their economy.
    Take the continent of africa as an example. Tourism in southern and eastern africa went on a decline after the ebola breakout of 2014 although many places in europe were actually closer to the outbreak than southern and eastern africa. The tourism sectors in all of the countries still feels the consequences as tourist numbers are at a long term low.
  • Another point is the seasonality of tourism. Most countries don’t get tourists all year long and thus have a peak season. This limits tourisms influence that a steady income in other sectors could very well overshadow.
  • Tourism is not really on the politicians agenda. Many politicians aknowledge the possibilities that tourism offers, but put beween the chairs they will always decide in favor of other industries.
  • A lot of companies that are active in third world countries are not run by nationals. There are many big international companies and even more foreigners running tourism businesses all around the world. These companies, in addition to the travelagencies in western countries earn most of the money spent while travelling.

SUMMARY: Tourism is a growing industry with a lot of options to facilitate the economic uprise of third world countries. It doesn’t need a lot of initial investment and it is not hindered by the same regulations as regular trading. It creates a lot of jobs and opportunities as well. BUT, it is always very vulnerable to the current state of the world economy/security concerns and political stability,it’s seasonal, and a lot of big companies try to grab the money right as it enters the foreign country and take it back to it’s origin.

With increasing numbers in tourism all these advantages and disadvantages came to light and with the preceding concerns in mind a lot of alternative forms of tourism came to life. These would namely be „ Alternative Tourism“, „Community Based Tourism“, „Pro-poor Tourism“ or „Responsible Tourism“. All of these can be summed up under the label of Sustainable Tourism and, although they are very different in their approach, they all try to differentiate from conventional Mass Tourism.



  • Rapid Development
  • Maximizes
  • Socially / Environmentally Inconsiderate
  • Uncontrolled
  • Short Term Planning
  • Remote Control
  • Large Groups
  • Fixed Programme
  • Little Time
  • Sights
  • Imported Lifestyle
  • Comfortable Lifestyle
  • Loud
  • Shopping


  • Slow Development
  • Optimizes
  • Socially / Environmentally Considerable
  • Controlled By Local Institution
  • Long Term Planning
  • Local Control
  • Singles, Families, Friends
  • Spontaneous Decisions
  • Much Time
  • Experiences
  • Local Lifestyle
  • Demanding / Active
  • Quiet
  • Bring Presents

TELFER et al. 2008

Responsible Tourism uses the basics of sustainable tourism, but focusses more on the dutiful attitude of every participant. Responsible Tourism cannot be viewed as a solution or an agenda for change regarding the much more influential Mass Tourism though. It offers an alternative, but not a solution to the existing problem although it tries to find a healthy path in the middle between the masses and small scale tourism. Responsible Tourism is practiced worldwide today.

„[Responsible Tourism] creates better places for people to live in,
and better places to visit“City Of Cape Town

South Africa was one of the first countries to realize the potential that Responsible Tourism has to offer. In 1996, the Department for Environmental Affairs and Tourism published the “White Paper On The Development And Promotion Of Tourism In South Africa”, stating their key elements of Responsible Tourism:

  • Avoid waste and over-consumption
  • Use local resources sustainably
  • Maintain and encourage natural, economic, social and cultural diversity
  • Be sensitive to the host culture
  • Involve the local community in planning and decision-making
  • Assess environmental, social and economic impacts as a prerequisite to developing tourism
  • Ensure communities are involved in and benefit from tourism
  • Market tourism that is responsible, respecting local, natural and cultural environments
  • Monitor impacts of tourism and ensure open disclosure of information


In the mid nineties this new form of tourism evolved in the developing countries. It mostly consists of tours arount the poorests parts of different towns, the so called “slums”. Usually these excursions are designed as guided tours operated by professional companies but there is a large number of informal tours as well. The most famous destinations for slum tourism are the south african cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg, Kalkutta, Mumbai and Delhi in India and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Movies like “City of God” or “Slumdog Millionaire” had a good part in promoting this new form of tourism and nestling it more and more into the public eye.

There are great differences between the slums worldwide as well as in a single slum itself and so is the respectable tourism. Depending on the tour operator, the focus of the tour varies. Some focus on the cultural and social diversity, others try to promote the value of cultural or social heritage. The terms to describe these tours are manifold. In scientific articles they are called “social” or “reality” tours, because many of the tour operator label the tours as “authentic” and promote that they work in close contact with the people living in the townships. Others call these tours “Cultural Tourism” or “Ethnic Tourism” and focus on the teaching aspect. Terms like “Poverty Tourism” and “Poorism” are used to describe this phenomenon.


Over the last two decades a special kind of Slum Tourism evolved in South Africa, the so called Township Tourism. A Township is the part of the city that was built during the Apartheid for the black and coloured population. Over twenty years after the end of Apartheid, the inhabitants are still predominantly black or coloured. All over the world the south african townships are infamous for their high crimerate and severe poverty. Township Tourism started in SoWeTo (South Western Township),the oldest and biggest township around Johannesburg during the 90’s. From there it spread all over the country and can now be found in every major city. Especially in South Africa township tours became one of the “Must-Dos” for every tourist. With a growing demand the number of Tour Operators grew exponentially. Today you can find highly professional operators as well as residents of the township offering tours by bus, car or by foot. In 1996 the ‘Department for Environmental Affairs and Tourism’ (DEAT) published the ‘White Paper on the Development and Promotion of Tourism in South Africa’, comprising of strategies that were supposed to stimulate economic growth and boost the social system! They established the positive influence of tourism on the so called “historically disadvantaged individuals” (HDI) to be one of the key aspects of the agenda.

With all the positive effects that tourism can have on the disadvantaged population in mind, the south african government supported Township Tourism from the beginning. The rapid growth and influence of tourism in mind, they started to think about a more sustainable approach to it’s development. In 2002 they had a little get-together at the Cape Town Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations (CTCRT) and established some characteristics for sustainable tourism in South Africa. The goal was and still is to reduce the negative economical, ecological and social effects on the local community, in this case the people who live in the townships, and to integrate them into the market to boost the economy.
However, a lot of recent research shows that a lot of the tour operators don’t follow the social standards and that there is still a lot of unused potential for social development and reduction of poverty.


Well, yeah, good question. There are plenty of cities offering tours and there are even more different tourtypes, but in Cape Town it usually looks like this:

  • Quick stopover at the District Six Museum
  • Historical or cultural sightings
  • Visiting a preschool (often with kiddos dancing & singing for you)
  • Looking at different parts of the township and differend kinds of housings
  • Visit a “Sangoma”, a traditional healer
  • One or another beer (“umgombothi”) at a “shebeen”, a local inofficial pub
  • Visit of private households

Like already stated, one of the key elements of Responsible Tourism is to include the locals into planning and decisionmaking regarding tourism.
In Langa, the oldest township in Cape Town, for instance, the locals aren’t really integrated. The initiators who are planning the route, usually use their own network of family and friends to plan and settle the routes. That results in a huge part of the community not participating in any profit. And thats another issue when talking about the actual implementation of the principles of Responsible Tourism: The local population as a whole should make a profit, but they don’t! Many operators claim that they bring a lot of money back into the community through donations and putting handicraft-shops or different local restaurants on their routes. But if you ask them specifically how much money goes back, the answers you will get vari, but all in all they will tell you that they do a lot to help the community.
Well, researches says something else and proves clearly that that is not always the case. Some of the visited households only get a little bit of money as compensation, others get nothing and some of them never agreed to be visited in the first place. So imagine, you have a bunch of oblivious tourists invading your home, up to 8 groups a day, taking pictures and asking silly questions and you can’t do anything about it. And on top of it, you don’t even get money out of it. Well, that’s just nasty!
It seems like the main reason for ripped off households not to stand up to this behaviour is, that if they do so they will be excluded from the tour and loose the little income that they have in direct donations from the tourists.

Another point is the missing interaction between the locals and the tourists. They complain that its usually talked about, and not with them. However, most of the locals agree to the visits. The hospitality is typical for the Xhosa-culture and reflects in the behavior of the locals. Also, over 70% of the locals say that they are happy with the way the tourism tours are held and that they are enough informed about the touristic development in Langa.
Almost every operator states that they try to only employ people from the township. Other then financial help, operators also support education and help in a lot of different ways.
Another problem is, that the tours are always planned along the same routes which results in a limited number of people having benefits out of the tourism.
The next critical point is often mentioned from the tour operators and the locals. They say that sometimes it happens that they don’t get the right amount of aspect. There are tours where the tourists drive through the township with a bus and take pictures from the inside, without getting out of it and without getting in touch with the locals. What the heck, its not a human-safari dudes! Thats not really nice! Although South Africa provided a strong basis for the Responsible Tourism and that they had the hope that everyone will stick to the guidelines, it gets obvious that South Africa mutated from “leader to laggard”. Especially in this sector is a huge disparity between expectation and reality. But still, most of the people seem to be happy with the decisions made for them and the planning of the township tours. Another big goal, the inclusion of the historically disadvantaged, wasn’t successful yet. Also the people from the township still don’t get enough respect, but there are slowly some improvements. Last but not least, a lot of tour operators still don’t really think about their social, economical and ecological consequences of their actions and the people don’t profit equally from the tourism.

Despite all of these different lacks, some good approaches of Responsible Tourism are clearly there! But still with a lot of space to improve. And despite all of the lacks, Responsible Tourism is the only way to create tourism in the townships in a long-lasting and sensible way.


  • Connector.

    Dont Be Lazy!

    There are a lot of different tours where you can choose between taking a bus, car and bike or if you want to walk your way through the township! With some tours they just drive around, let the visitors take pictures from the inside and just get out of the car to meet the locals that are booked for the program.
    Yes, its really comfortable to drive around in a car or bus. But jeez, a township is not a zoo and you should try and show some respect! So get your ass up and move it! Get out there and meet people on the street!

  • Connector.

    Going in Smaller Groups

    Many of the locals are complaining about large groups of tourists invading their home and therefore their privacy. So try to find a tour operator where the size of the group is as small as possible. It could come out at a plus for you as well, because it gives you a better chance to interact with the locals & get to know them better!

  • Connector.

    Be Nice!

    A lot of the tourists signing up for a township tour don't really know what to expect and how they should behave. It's your tour guides responsibility to inform you about the right behavior, to adress your prejudices, to tell you where and when it is allowed to take pictures andto make the tour a good experience for you and the people you're going to meet.

  • Connector.

    Ask For Permission Before You Take A Picture

    Would you like strangers taking pictures of you like you are an attraction? Unless you are a supermodel or some kind of movie star - i think you'd find it weird, hm? So be polite and ask whenever you want to snap a picture. And please, don't ask your tour guide, ask the people infront of your lens!

  • Connector.

    Try To Find A Good Tour Operator

    The high number of unemployment and the fact that most of this tourism sector is informal lead to many tour operators choosing the cheapest labour they can find. Thats neither good for the tour guides and their families nor the quality of the tour. So if your tour guide is well paid its a win win - more money goes to the community and a motivated tour guide is more likely to take you on an interesting trip around his home.

  • Connector.

    Enjoyed Good Service?

    Yes, the operator should pay your guide well. But you should leave a tip if you liked the tour and enjoyed your time in the township! This leads to the tours getting better and better because of the tour guides realizing that a better tour experience yields more money. Another win-win!

  • Connector.

    Spreading & Sharing

    Not only the tour operators should profit from your tour! Make sure that there are a lot of different stations on your route. This helps to spread the money a bit more inside of the township and therefore helps more people. And while you're at it: Why don't you stay at a Backpackers in the middle of a township or fetch something to eat somewhere along the trip at a restaurant and have a beer (or two) at a local shebeen?

  • Connector.

    Invest Your Money At The Right Places

    A lot of the tours lead you to shops where you can buy souvenirs. Well, yeah, awesome! But maybe it would be better if you could do something a bit more ... longlasting? Think about giving the money to a good social project instead.

  • Connector.

    Know What Your Money Is Used For

    Another good thing to help the local community! Do a bit of research and try to find out what each tour operator does with the earned money. Do they use it for themselves, spend it for better advertising or do they try to help the community? Some of the operators for example use a part of their profit to provide english lessons to the locals only to employ them afterwards.

  • Connector.

    Be Aware When You're Visiting a School

    Try to make sure that classes are not interrupted and that the kids can learn in peace, without a loud group of tourists watching them and taking pictures 8-10 times a day.

  • Connector.

    Know How To React To Begging

    Yes, we know its hard! And its a controversial topic. But try not to give money to people who beg. It seems like a nice gesture and some of them can be quite pursuasive, but in the long term - naah! It just teaches them that they don't have to do anything worthwile to get money - and that's not how it works. You should rather give your money to people who work it, like polite car-watchmen in front of almost every store in South Africa, buy local goods, or ... well, there are plenty of options!


Very good! We’ve got a huuuge list of literature about this topic! If you are interested in that or if you want to read the long version (60 pages) about this topic {unfortunately only in german, meh}, just drop us an mail & we can provide you with the good stuff! & check out the blog of Jeanett Søderstrøm, she did quite a lot of research and a big part of the information we have is based on her work, thanks a lot, again!

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