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Slum tourism, anyone?

At lunch during a recent Tourism Forum, I was seated right next to a comely lady who gave me her business card that had “Smokey Tours” on it.  Curious, I asked her what kind of tours she was promoting.  “Slum Tourism” was her reply.  I almost fell off my seat, with the thunderous question “What?” pounding in my head!  I mean, why?  Why would anybody want to go to the slums?

Well, Juliette Kwee, a Dutch national, founder of Smokey Tours and board member of World Experience Philippines, a Filipino NGO established in 2014, was kind enough to educate me on something I knew nothing about.  She got the idea of putting up Slum Tours to make people socially aware of issues that our country faces and the individual issues that our slum residents face.

She also wanted to give livelihood opportunities to the slum dwellers through these tours as some are trained to speak English to become the Tour Leaders for the tour in their respective communities.  More importantly, the income from such tours is used to create projects for the people living in those slums.

A foreign tourist interacts with children in the slum area

Most of the tourists who join Smokey Tours come from Europe, with the bulk from Netherlands, where Juliette is from.  The tour also attracts Asians, mostly from Japan.  They also have participants from Australia, the USA, and from different parts of our country. The nagging question I still had in my mind was—what would these people look for in these Slum Tours?

Juliette says the tour participants are curious about the realities of life outside the developed urban areas.  They enjoy engaging in conversation the residents in these communities and consider their slum experience most valuable during their visit to our country, as they feel very accomplished having shared their time, energy and money with these poor people.

The Tour’s marketing flyer is quite engaging: “Visit the slums…and discover the resiliency of the residents making use of their limited resources to survive. Experience and understand…their livelihood, battling produce from pollution…stroll on alleys and see residents in their humble dwellings, overcoming the challenge of protracted access to water and electricity…managing to keep their enthusiasm, in spite of tomorrow’s uncertainties.”

Very often, children are given money and food by tour participants

The highlights of Juliette’s Smokey Tours allow participants an insight into the lives of slum fishermen and the battles they face because of pollution.  Guests are also shown how charcoal is made from driftwood, and they walk through the locals’ houses and get the feel of their living conditions.  Participants are also given the chance to ride a jeepney and a tricycle, both of which are part of the tour itinerary, bringing tourists to specific areas, some of which are not served by asphalted roads.  Of course, a lot of walking is expected in these tours.

Participants are reminded of the very strict NO CAMERA Policy as they “try to be as less intrusive as possible…to minimize any discomfort the tours can cause the locals.”  They are also warned that some areas could be muddy and that closed shoes should be worn even if the agency will provide them with rain boots.  The three-hour tour costs only P950, without meals, but includes the fare for jeepney and tricycle. 

Juliette’s Slum Tours go daily and take participants to Smokey Mountain, HappyLand and Estero de Vitas in Tondo, and the biggest concentration of slum dwellers at the BASECO compound, also in Tondo.  During the high season, the Tours average 10 participants, but this goes down to three during the low season.  Much to my surprise, I learned that similar tours are also available in India (particularly Mumbai), Indonesia and Brazil.  

Slum dwellers, shown here with the Tour Guide and a tourist (standing, center), benefit from these tours which augment their economic status, as they are taught livelihood skills

This laudable project of World Experience Philippines certainly deserves a commendation because it showcases a workable and profitable facet of Sustainable Tourism, and gives interested participants another perspective of the lower stratum of life in a Third World country.

More information on Smokey Tours may be obtained from the office of World Experience Philippines, located at the Art Gallery Sining Kamalig, Upper Ground Floor, Ali Mall or through (02) 622-1325, 0917-578-5398 or [email protected] www.smokeytours.com 

With Smokey Tours allowing visitors to do the rounds of our slums, I can now proudly say that, indeed, the Philippines has a wealth of 7,107 reasons to win tourists over.  Our Tourism drumbeaters should continue to proclaim, “It’s More Fun…” in the slums?

For feedback, I’m at [email protected]

Topics: Slum tourism , anyone?

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