Lessons from Amsterdam on keeping tourism respectful 

The launch of the Kigali City Tour Bus happened at a time the rain decided it was time to cool down the temperatures of Kigali.

This made those in other regional cities still dealing with the scorching sun a little envious.

Maybe the smiling Buddha did the magic for Kigali first.

Like most city tours, one would love to check out the iconic structures that give a city that distinct identity. Of course for Kigali, the Convention Centre stands out like a huge rising sun from the horizon.

The fact that the dome’s colours can be changed to depict a given theme or time serves as a reminder of what is going on at a particular time.

It is like London’s Big Ben clock but for reminding us of whether Rwanda is hosting lots of visitors or commemorating something that can be represented by a particular colour theme.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial is a must visit for anyone doing a tour in this city. Interestingly, for most city tours, tourists may want to check out those parts of the city that rarely make it onto postcards. For example, slums.

It happens in Nairobi’s Kibera slum, the townships of South Africa or the Favelas of Brazil among other places. Then there are also cases where particular cultures are packaged as tourism products ostensibly to show off their way of life.

For this the Maasai, Karamajong and the Batwa are the “products” the region has to offer. I have been to some of these tours and sometimes you wonder whether this kind of tourism should exist in the first place.

Slum tourism currently gets quite a lot of criticism with many labelling it as poverty porn.

The New York Timesquoted Kennedy Odede, a Kenyan, saying it “turns poverty into entertainment, something that can be momentarily experienced and then escaped from.” “They get photos; we lose a piece of our dignity.”

Of course the tours are also a source of employment and income for tour guides from the slums and a chance to sell hand-made crafts to the visitors.

However, the issue of dignity should not be brushed aside just because some pocket change is doing the rounds in these places.

On Thursday 21, March, The New York Times reported that Amsterdam is to ban guided tours of its notorious red-light district because, “it is outdated to treat sex workers as a tourist attraction.”

Although this Dutch capital has outstanding sites like the Van Gogh Museum, its annual 19m visitors are also keen on checking out the city that’s known for legal marijuana and prostitution. I loved the wording used by Udo Kock, the city’s deputy mayor. I place special focus on the word outdated for it brings an aspect of time to the debate around dignity.

So I ask myself as to whether our tourism policy makers have taken time to think about some of these issues. Do they think much about the way we package these people’s lives and market them as products to visit and take photos of?

How long are we going to do this and when shall it (if ever) be considered to be outdated? Are we in any way bothered by the intrusion into these people’s lives, their dignity and of course the never ending disruption of their lives? If the focus is to uplift them, what shall we then show to the world once they are uplifted?

If indeed conservation is vital for the tourism sector, should we conserve slums so as to ensure that what people come to see there remains available? Shall we deny them the kind of development that other areas get just because we want them to maintain this marketable culture and is it fair to them? In the time being I think these are conversations that need to be had a lot more often.

We also urgently need to tame our addiction to plastics and their poor disposal. The situation is very worrying especially when you look at the 2016 report by the World Economic Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and McKinsey & Company that where it says that eight million metric tonnes of plastic go into our oceans every year.

The efforts against this need to be uniform for them the work. It quite disturbing when some countries like Rwanda and Kenya ban plastic bags and kick start efforts against single use plastics while elsewhere  others are not bothered at all.

Email: ssenyonga@gmail.com

Blog: www.ssenyonga.wordpress.com

Twitter: @ssojo81

The views expressed in this article are of the author.


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