Why am I against slum tours?

Dear Hidden Jakarta Slum Tour,

As an indonesian and a student who has spent most of her life doing development work with urban and rural underprivileged and in emergency relief in several countries, it is disgusting to see the Slumdog Millionare Hollywood trend being manifested into an appalling, undignified, profit-making experience by your company by your marketing of tours in the slum areas of Jakarta.

If what you intend to do is show rich and poor Jakartans as the same as rich and poor of other cities, there are better ways to do this.

Your tourist gets to go home to their five star hotel. How is this in any way beneficial to those you exploit and the tourists? So that when they go home to their middle class lives they can be comforted to know that people live, maybe with less material goods than them, and can tell everybody all about it at their next cocktail party? Your fee for the tours include a “donation” fee, how much is that? Is it 50%, 5%, 0.05%? Will the donations go directly to the individuals you have convinced to play along with you and your clients, or to the Organisation you have aligned yourself with to provide your tour a sense of grass-roots legitimacy and with it to alleviate your clients’ guilt?

Don’t you think it would be more appropriate to channel your “first world” guilt into more productive, sustainable avenues?  Perhaps helping student groups do community outreach work. This way they can experience the same things, learn about the real Jakarta and at the same time experience what it is like for people in Jakarta and for people who are doing grassroots, or large federally or internationally funded poverty alleviation projects.

International development organisations and small grassroots community groups have come a long way from the modernisation, post-colonial, eurocentric ideas of community development. In sustainable development projects, both the community and the groups helping them out mutually learn, benefit, and grow from the experience, and the experience lasts for much longer than the duration of the project. In case you haven’t noticed, information and assistance is not a one way road.

That takes up time, a lot of it. That’s why it’s how it works. You cannot capture an entire economic strata of a city in a flash tour of four to twelve hours.

All that having been said, while I disagree wholeheartedly on both an economic and moral basis with your business model, and will actively discourage those I know from partaking in your business, I do hope that if your company is successful, your tours do make an impact on your clients in the sustainable manner, and not just as another travel anecdote for cocktail parties back home.

No love,


One thought on “Why am I against slum tours?

  1. Very informative post. Jakarta is a bustling town, you can find shopping centres and luxury hotels. Most of the people are involved in plantation, they mostly use motorbike taxis and three wheelers for this purpose. Majority of people work in metal shops, small scale factories and vending food. You may find brave people in Kampung Pulo located in the core of Ciliwung as they live happily despite facing flood problem. For more details refer http://www.journeyidea.com/jakarta-indonesia-embracing-coercive-privation/

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