To celebrate World Responsible Tourism Day on 6 November, guest blogger Andrew Thompson of responsible tourism operator and South America specialist Sumak Travel, describes a fascinating new initiative in Brazil…
Responsible tourism can help reduce poverty and support the creation of sustainable livelihoods pursued in harmony with the environment and local culture. In Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, for example, Sumak Travel has developed a different approach to the ethically suspect practice of ‘slum tourism’ where some tour operators take visitors around shanty towns in vehicles with security guards. Instead, by working with local partner Soul Brasileiro, we have started running a relaxed walking tour of Santa Marta, a favela (shanty town) inhabited by around 5,500 people.
Under a state government programme launched in preparation for the World Cup and the Olympics, shanty town inhabitants have been trained as bilingual tour guides and can speak English, Spanish, French and several other languages. The cost of the tours is modest and fixed by the municipality, and between 15% and 20% of the revenues must be reinvested in local social and community programmes. The guides themselves are asked to spend their earnings inside the community.
Visitors can walk around, meet the locals, see the incredible views of the city and shop for locally made handcrafts at the market, including art made from recycled materials such as old tin cans. The tours are advertised across Rio, and favela residents are incredibly proud of the publicity generated for their community. After years of being ‘invisible,’ they are now protagonists, eager to tell Santa Marta’s story and show off its facilities.
Soul Brasileiro is a local tour group that describes itself as ‘nuts for Brazil!’. They believe responsible tourists should be given a chance to understand not only the beauty of the country but also its social problems: “this understanding is the only way to seek joint solutions and build a better Brazil every day” it says.
To that end it offers a whole range of community tours, nature treks, and hands-on encounters with local cooking, arts, and culture. They have a particularly exciting project called Nature, Kitchen and Culture which is developing an organic community garden.
We take a similar approach with less known shanty town projects in Sao Paulo and with Quilombos (hinterland settlements of people of African origin) in Paraty, in partnership with Brazilian responsible tour operator Aoka.
Click here for more information on Sumak Travel’s tours of Sao Paulo, Paraty and Rio de Janeiro. (All pictures courtesy of Sumak Travel).
About the author: Andrew Thompson is a freelance writer, blogger and management coach; he works for Sumak Travel. Brought up in Latin America, he has worked for BBC World Service and been a foreign correspondent in Mexico City (The Guardian), Buenos Aires (The Times), Rio de Janeiro (BBC) and Rome (Inter Press Service). As editor of a team that produced a radio documentary on social reform in Latin America, Andrew won the 1994 King of Spain Journalism Prize. Visit his blog at http://www.yorugastories.com/