5 Types of Alternative Tourism

For some people, a week on a cruise ship or all-inclusive beach resort is pure torture. Others prefer museums and a posh hotel over a hike through a national park. Ecotourism? Sounds like a great way to get a snake bite. For others however, absolute heaven.

The point of course is to illustrate that diverse catalysts compel us to travel. Different reasons motivate different people to leave home and explore the world. With that expressly in mind, here are five types of alternative tourism:

Disaster Tourism

“Disaster Tourism” is somewhat of a paradox. In the name of self-preservation after all, most people flee from natural disasters. A slim, intrepid minority however, prefer to fling themselves in the eye of the storm, as it were, or show up to observe the aftermath. Less aid workers and more storm chasers, these adrenaline fiends just like to watch.

Aceh, Sumatra tsunami damage – Photo credit

Some notable disaster tourism sites include South Asia and South East Asia after the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of 2004, New Orleans and the U.S. Gulf Coast post-Hurricane Katrina, and the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland.

2010 Haiti earthquake aftermath – Photo credit

Dark Tourism

The name is self-explanatory but to expound further, dark tourism is travel to some of the most somber and grim historical points of interest on the planet. Think sites of unspeakable horror, like the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps in Poland, Khmer Rouge “Killing Fields” of Cambodia and Robben Island off the Cape Town coast.

Murambi Genocide Museum, Rwanda – Photo credit

Other noteworthy dark tourism destinations include Ground Zero in New York City, the American Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Rwanda’s Murambi Genocide Museum, Goree Island off the coast of Dakar, Senegal, Ghana’s Cape Coast Castle and the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool also embody this austere, yet vital and significant, type of travel.

Auschwitz – Photo credit

Ghost Tourism

A fascination with the supernatural drives some people to travel in search of the paranormal. Behind many a famous landmark is a great ghost story and indeed, popular tours in places like Dublin, St. Augustine, Florida, Quebec City and Brisbane explore historic, “haunted” city quarters.

Amityville “Horror” House – Photo credit

Offshoots of “ghost tourism” include proverbial ghost towns, from barren mine, mill and railroad towns across America, Canada and Australia to notorious places like Jonestown, Guyana and Chernobyl, Ukraine. Salem, Massachusetts, of infamous witch trial fame, and parts of Transylvania also fit the bill.

Bran Castle, Transylvania – Photo credit

Slum Tourism

One of the most controversial types of travel involves tours of vast urban slums in places like Rio de Janeiro, Soweto, Mumbai, Manila, Cairo and Mexico City. “Shanty tourism” or “poverty tourism” is certifiably questionable and on the ethical borderline when the experience is utterly passive. If however, visitors engage in some kind of community outreach or volunteer program, the collective positive impact falls beyond the realm of mere “slum tourism”.

Rocinha Favela, Rio de Janeiro – Photo credit

From the favelas of Rio to Orangi Town, Karachi, Khayelitsha township in Cape Town to Cité Soleil, Port-au-Prince, the major slums of the world do manage to lure tourists. Is slum tourism inherently good or bad? The answer is complex and elusive. Ultimately, if areas of dire poverty incur some immediate net benefit, the pros may outnumber the cons. If however, this alternative form of travel veers on cheap voyeurism, then we can safely call it like it is: inhumane.

Mumbai slum – Photo credit

Pop-Culture Tourism

Pop-culture tourism, unlike some other types of travel, is by definition, harmless fun. Simply put, it involves destinations with indelible connections to popular books, films, television shows, music, major events or a particular celebrity.

Vulcan, Alberta – Photo credit

Countless fans of The Beatles who flock to Liverpool hotels safely fit the description of pop-culture tourists. Vulcan, Alberta, so named in 1915 after the Roman god of fire, shot to cult-like prominence decades later because of Star Trek. The diminutive Canadian town now ranks as a famously kitschy sci-fi pilgrimage point.

Other significant pop-culture destinations include the town of Burkitsville, Maryland (of Blair Witch Project fame), the Tatooine Star Wars sets of Matmata, Tunisia and last but not least, parts of New Zealand that evoke Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings visions of Middle Earth.

Star Wars set in Matmata, Tunisia – Photo credit

4 Comments for "5 Types of Alternative Tourism"

SeoKungFu says on January 21st, 2013 at 3:26 am:

If you are coming to Prague, Czech republic, here is our suggestion for alternative tourism:

Irene says on June 17th, 2013 at 11:52 pm:

If by any chance you are coming to Uganda not only for the gorrillas, then you could consider the slum tourism…really rich.


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