Ugly Tourism

Graffiti tourism, danger tourism, grief tourism (tours to Holocaust museums, Khmer Rouge killing fields, etc) and slum tourism (though Brazil’s favelas and Kenya’s slums) are all travel micro-niches that have surfaced in the last few years. These travel niches cater to small markets in terms of numbers, but keep in the mind the Long Tail business model about selling less of more. The focus is on offering a large number of niche products, each of which sells relatively infrequently. This pattern is illustrated with the transformation of the book publishing industry by Amazon.com and DVD rentals by Netflix.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the latest would-you-believe category is Ugly Tourism.  Leader of this new niche is Nicolas Buissart, who created an “Urban Safari” in Charleroi, Belgium, the so-called capital of the country’s industrial heartland. Highlights include climbing a slag heap, exploring defunct metro stations, exploring streets said to be the ugliest in the country and visiting the house where Belgian surrealist artist, Magritte’s mother lived before she committed suicide. The €25 tour also includes a cardboard box lunch with items that would appeal to only cultivated palates (to be generous) and the touring van is standing room only, not because it’s overbooked but because there are no seats.

Buissart claims bookings are “robust” but tourism officials aren’t exactly gleeful about this new offering. Looking on the bright side, visitors who do come for the tour might discover what a tourism official described as a “rich culture.” And once they’re there, they can spread the word – a topic ripe for social media.


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