Tours to India Soar with “Slumdog”

slumdog.jpgTo many, it’s no surprise that Hollywood-hit Slumdog Millionaire took home eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. But who knew it would boost tourism in and around Mumbai, a city whose tourism industry was hit hard after the 2008 terrorist attacks?

“There was a time when most travelers tried to avoid the dicey parts of town,” says National Geographic Traveler contributing editor Margaret Loftus in our online special “Slum Tours: Real or Real Tacky?” “But an increasing number are now seeking them out on so-called reality tours. From Rio’s favelas to Mumbai’s Dharavi slum to Nairobi’s Mukuru district, the trend is gaining steam as the latest frontier in travel.”

According to the Economic Times, “Mumbai now tops the chart of global tourist destination followed by countries like Japan, made popular by the movie ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, South America because of ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ based on Che Guevera’s life, and New Zealand for the ‘Lord of the Rings’ which has 17 Oscars to its credit for the trilogy.”

Arthur Hoffman, managing director of Expedia Asia-Pacific, told the Times “movies have a powerful ability to evoke a sense of the exotica about the locations in which they are filmed. They are widely acknowledged to inspire travel to those destinations. For travellers, the fascination of picturing scenes in the film and then comparing it to real life can lead to a strange sense of déjà vu, particularly for those who have seen the movie several times.”

Our colleagues at National Geographic magazine were on the ground in Mumbai — Slumdog‘s setting — documenting the construction of India’s superhighway for their October ’08 feature, “Fast Lane to the Future,” with photographs by Ed Kashi.  Called the Golden Quadrilateral, this new highway is an enormous, ambitious infrastructure project connecting Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkota and Bangalore, improving quality of life and bringing economic opportunities to much of India (although there are plenty of disadvantages as well). Check out their video after the jump.

For more images of India’s cities, see National Geographic’s interactive photo map of the Golden Quadrilateral, with photos chosen from the reader-submitted My Shot program.

For more information about Mumbai, check out our Trip Lit column and our online Places of a Lifetime city guide.

And a bonus:  National Geographic’s Pop Omnivore blog talks to Save the Children about how child poverty is portrayed in “Slumdog Millionaire”, and the problems of child labor and human trafficking.

Photo: IMDB


  1. GrosZgeg
    February 1, 2012, 6:01 am

    Hello everyone,
    We are two students from France. We are 16 years old and we are currently studying
    slum tourism for our English course.

    We are truly shocked by this type of tourism. We simply don’t understand how people could find this interesting, or even funny … We think slum tourism is an attempt to the private life of the inhabitants who live in dreadful conditions. The travel agencies that offer the possibility to visit slums are just making money on the back of those in dire straits.
    Moreover, how can this be considered some sort of attraction or theme park ? Is it funny, interesting to go and see problems that are not yours ? We think that slum tours are just like a human zoo for the rich ogling poor people.
    It can also be seen as mean from rich people because they just go and visit the slum, and then they come back to their posh hotels saying that some people are sad and not trying to solve the problem. Watching how people survive in tough conditions and then going back to easy life is somehow immoral. Asking how they built their house or what they eat is not kind. It can make people jealous, and they will feel even more miserable.

    To conclude we are totally against this type of tourism but we do respect those who are for it because we agree that some poor people could like to share their everyday problems and difficulties. Also it can help families if more money obtained with the tours were given to slum inhabitants

  2. Jerry Cannay
    February 1, 2012, 5:58 am

    Warning : If you can’t bear “Slumdog millionaire”, don’t read this comment.

    First of all, it’s a kind of exchange between slum inhabitants and tourists: the tourists are learning more about the culture of India, it shows the reality of the country, if we have a stereotyped vision, slum tourism will help us get rid of our prejudices because we can see that they are self-sufficient. Moreover, tourists will help the local economy.
    Further more the tourists can compare their way of life with the Indian one, we think we are better educated whereas they are very wise, so it will make us draw conclusions about subjects like happiness but also about the selfishness of western people.
    Last but not least, this experience teaches us things about life because we can learn from their humility and inspire ourselves from their abilities to save and to recycle whereas we tend to consume more and more.

    Let’s not forget how cheap Indian food is !

  3. FreeHugs
    Paris, France
    February 1, 2012, 5:55 am

    Hi posters !

    Actually, I’m going to expose my mixed point of view about Slum Tourism.

    Indeed, it can be considered such as voyeurism. Actually, people can observe the dreadful living conditions of the inhabitants of the slum and feel superior. Those inhabitants are not animals that we can see in a zoo so we have to respect them and not visit and judge them. If you were living in slum you would not like rich people to come to your home and make fun of you or simply ogle you for days just to entertain when you fight against your appalling conditions. Furthermore, tourist agencies should not make money out of poverty. It’s definitely unethic !
    Secondly, I do not think slum tourism is a kind of tourism that attracts people living in conveniant conditions: it’s a overcrowded place, inhabitants are cramped into a small district of a city, it’s extremely unhealthy, I heard once that in the Dharavi slum there were only one toilet for 1,500 people, it’s squalid! Would you explain why it is so popular?

    Nevertheless, tourists bring a lot of money to slums, which is economically benefic, the community can receive money and develop businesses and can be self-sufficient at last. It can also get rid of stereotyped visions of tourists. Tourists who visited slums totally changed their mind about their inhabitants. It can broaden one’s horizons and permit discovering aspects of a local and different culture.

    To conclude, I respect slum tourism but I cannot understand the attraction of some tourists, it can be useful for the inhabitants who are in dire straits and can obtain money thanks to the tourists, so they can develop economic projects and live better.

  4. Vineeta
    September 5, 2011, 2:18 am

    The movie was a great combination of systematic direction and portrayal of the life of people and children living in slums and their way of thinking. It was worth receiving the 8 Oscars. However, a visit to India should not be mere to see poverty and struggle. India has lot more to offer. It is a diverse land in terms of culture, landscape, people, language, religion. You name it and you see it in India

  5. Elina Joshef
    June 9, 2010, 8:52 am

    I think that people love to travel a lot. And this movie inspired the people to travel all over World. I watched this movie.

  6. noahethan
    November 4, 2009, 6:19 am

    I think you can find more information at or .
    Kerala Tourism

  7. Zezinho
    October 27, 2009, 8:31 am

    favela/slum tours

 My name is Zezinho and I live in the favela of Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I am a proud resident here in my comunity.

    I understand people’s opinon about favela/slum tours.

    I offer a diferent perspective. I welcome “tours” but only if done with a person who lives in the comunity. The majority of the tour operators do not live nor are not from the favela/slums. 

I think it is the time that we who live in these comunities need do something.
    It is true that some tour companies do glamorize the negative things (drugs, trafickers) in the comunity. This is something that make me upset. Becase there is so much more to favelas than this. I know about all of this because I see the tour guides make their tours. We do not have to pay the trafickers anything for us to make our business here.

    Favelas deserve to be seen and to be heard. There is so much prejudice against these comunities. There is much culture that comes from favelas. When a foreigner comes to our comunity, this help legitimize us as people, like everybody else. It is only that we are poor. When you come for a visit, it is then people from the outside can see the realities of life there. 

    People always focus on the negative becase that is what the media promotes, drugs, violence, only this. But for we who live there exists so much more. 

 Most of the tours have this one “sanitized” route that they take every visitor.
    Some of us who live here in Rocinha are changing that. We are welcoming people to come for a visit with one of us. We know everything about this comunity and want share the truth but at the same time, want people to enjoy themselves when they come here. I like to bring people to visit my family and see how I live. When you come here, I also learn about you. 

    I respect people who may think this as exploitation but the diference is, we live here and are making changes to benefit OUR comunity. Our goal is to build a comunity center for Arts and Culture. And through our “tours”, people have the oportunity to also stay in the comunity. Many people return to volunteer, which we welcome. 

    If you want more information on how we are changing the perspectives of our comunity, please email me: 

    Thank You,


    “Proud favela resident”

  8. jumi
    August 19, 2009, 10:50 am

    Major places to visit in India are; The North Block, in New Delhi, houses key government offices, Munnar hill station on the Western Ghats in Kerala, mumbai, kolkata, hyderabad and chennai.
    Thank You.
    Kerala Tour Packages

  9. jumi
    August 19, 2009, 10:46 am

    India is a great place to visit; India, which lies within the Indomalaya ecozone, displays significant biodiversity. One of eighteen megadiverse countries, it is home to 7.6% of all mammalian, 12.6% of all avian, 6.2% of all reptilian, 4.4% of all amphibian, 11.7% of all fish, and 6.0% of all flowering plant species.Many ecoregions, such as the shola forests, exhibit extremely high rates of endemism; overall, 33% of Indian plant species are endemic. India’s forest cover ranges from the tropical rainforest of the Andaman Islands, Western Ghats, and North-East India to the coniferous forest of the Himalaya. Between these extremes lie the sal-dominated moist deciduous forest of eastern India; the teak-dominated dry deciduous forest of central and southern India; and the babul-dominated thorn forest of the central Deccan and western Gangetic plain.Important Indian trees include the medicinal neem, widely used in rural Indian herbal remedies. The pipal fig tree, shown on the seals of Mohenjo-daro, shaded Gautama Buddha as he sought enlightenment.

  10. Shailendra
    April 24, 2009, 3:30 pm

    When Oscars comes into the picture, how can we forget the great Indian Music director A. R. Rehman, who has won the Oscar for the song “Jai Ho” from the movie.
    I have watched the move and agreed what ever has been shown, this is the reality and still there in some part of India and we should accept it. But up to a certain extent it is also increasing greediness in India like recently I have read in one of the leading news paper that the little girl who has played a role in the movie is being sold, don’t know it’s true or false.
    Agra India

  11. Sanket Gadkari
    April 8, 2009, 4:05 am

    Dear Readers,
    As an Indian I would definitely say that the movie Slumdog is in a bad taste. Whats the purpose of the whole drama which stretches for @ 120 mins. The movie depicts all the evils that could possible exist in a society, unfortunately they do exist to a certain extent in India.
    But then to think of it, “Slum and Slumdog” is the impression created in minds of a foreigner, who has never been to India. That is disgusting. It is almost as if somebody has derived a sadistic pleasure of depicting Mumbai / India in this type.
    All that apart, I personally do not believe in such kind of tourist activity. This will only encourage the local mafia. Think of a scenario, where the dollar rich tourist comes and donates a few dollars out of goodwill to a sick / disabled child or family. This money in turn goes around to the very evil which is shown to be exploiting the slum dwellers.
    If a tourist really has to get enlightened about local customs or culture, my suggestion would always be to visit a few villages. Maybe have a village stay arranged by the tour planner. Its far more enriching than going to slums.
    Please understand, any profitable enterprise is never shut down, so “Slum Tourism” will ensure the people stay in slums and never come up.

  12. Emily Rose
    March 23, 2009, 7:19 pm

    I agree with a previous post that volunteering or actually living in an actual place will enhance your experience and allow you to understand the situation of a “slum” on a very different level than a quick 4-hour stop. I know not everyone can do this because often vacations are quick and then one must return to work/school, etc… but I have done this and it allows for the creation of very special bonds and a deep understanding of how these people live day in and day out, their struggles, how they find happiness, and how the outside world sees, treats and responds to them. Tour buses could definitely be a launching pad for someone as an initial look into slum life and could spur them to return to do non-profit or volunteer work. I just find it somewhat disheartening when people from developed countries take a quick vacation to a slum and then go on with their regular lives back in their country of origin. I think if you do a day trip to a slum, don’t let this be your first and last experience, become involved in a more complex and last way, somehow. If you have the money to go in the first place, it is probable you have money to return and/or find a creative or practical way to help the slum residents.

  13. Charu
    March 19, 2009, 2:23 am

    I don’t think Slumdog is the correct representation of India. It would be sad if people are visiting a country to see poverty and be happy about their conditions. What Slumdog did for India is that it gave India a lot of publicity in the international circuit. However, there is more to India that poverty, snake charmers, Yoga and cotton and it would be great if travelers wanna experience and discover that.

  14. Christopher Hill
    February 27, 2009, 5:16 am

    Harold Goodwin makes some important points in the article quoting him on slum tours – the townships are often culturally rich, and visiting there can help remove a lot of prejudices and misconceptions about life in the townships.
    If done well and sensitively, these tours can be enriching for the participants, and beneficial to the communities visited.
    However, I submit that even better is actually volunteering in a township or slum, and properly getting under the skin of the locals – I founded Hands Up Holidays to make it easy for you to volunteer with the locals in a safe and meaningful way!

  15. Jean
    February 26, 2009, 5:52 pm

    I think that as long as the locals are treated respectfully, then these tours can be a good thing. For one, tourists can purchase items from the locals which will help the poor who sell their wares. Also, visitors may come back with a lasting impression, and feel led to do their part to help the poor.

  16. Cameron Meyer
    February 25, 2009, 3:42 pm

    I think that it is great that a movie such as Slumdog Millionaire can inspire people to travel the world. Hopefully, those that do choose to fly overseas to experience the feeling of a film first-hand do so in a responsible manner. What I am talking about is the two sides of “poverty tourism”. One one hand, many people that live in these slums that are being toured can benefit from the extra tourism dollars. On the other hand, many view this type of tourism as exploitation. I feel that in order to assess this, each individual situation must be viewed in the proper context, and hopefully tourists can understand the complexities of the matter.
    In regards to the highway, I personally do not feel that a superhighway will be the dreamboat of India. In the United States and elsewhere, superhighways do little more than aid diffusion. Whether it serves to distribute problems or benefits is primarily a factor of its placement. Additionally, highways can lead to undesirable urban growth such as edge cities and commercial corridors which can and sometimes do harm cohesive communities.
    Cameron for My Wonderful World