Urban Forum

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 373–390 | Cite as

Tourist Valorisation of Urban Poverty: an Empirical Study on the Web

Article

Abstract

In recent times, slum tourism has become one of the fastest growing niche tourism segments in the world. The favela, slum, township, gecekondu appear into a tourist destination as part of the so-called reality tour phenomenon. In the tourist sector, the web plays an important role. In fact, consumer choices are aided by information picked up through the internet, which is an ideal place to communicate, promote and sell destinations and where potential travellers can undertake comparisons and choices more responsibly. This paper evaluates tour whole sales websites to analyse different types of strategic choices. The websites are evaluated using an extended Model of Internet Commerce Adoption (eMICA) methodological approach that draws on the evolutionary development of electronic commerce. Considering that internet includes a wide variety of technologies, which could bring potential benefits and reach new customers, it is important that website information is complete and attractive. The following study is of an exploratory nature. Through the results of the study, it is possible to gain knowledge of the slum e-tourism.

Keywords

e-tourism Poverty tourism Reality tours Extended Model of Internet Commerce Adoption (eMICA) Urban poverty 

Introduction

Tourism today is characterised by diversification and enrichment of the tourist product offered, where the tourist is satisfied not only by the contemplation of a landscape (authentic or romantic) but intends to turn it into an experience to feel a real part (Schmitt 1999).

Research of authentic and unexplored regions, places with forms of social tension and ethical issues, contrasts with the particularities that distinguish purely hedonistic and recreational, traditional tourism. In recent times, due to changing social conditions and the development of international tourism, so-called poverty or slum tourism has increasingly come into focus: organised tours of destinations in degradation and poverty, and in some cases also illegal places fully run by gangs.

The ‘regular’ tourist travels to sites for the purpose of learning and gaining knowledge and information. Most of them, who are educated, employed, in business, etc. and living in cities or towns cannot easily understand the reality of a villager’s life inside a metropolis. A slum tourist, in contrast, is seeking some sort of emotional pleasure and is interested in seeing ‘reality,’ or gaining authenticity, insight into power relations or a window onto other lives when there are ethical sentiments. Poverty is everywhere and anywhere to a different degree but often does not arouse interest. Conversely, poverty in these instances actually creates curiosity because of difference in ways of life. It is a common phenomenon and is one of the top forms of tourism in some parts of the world (Delic 2011), specially, in emerging nations in the global south (Rogerson 2004; Freire-Medeiros 2009; Rolfes 2010; Frenzel 2014) where it emerged, likewise, during the mid-1990s. Examples are common throughout South and Central America as well as in Asian countries which have the same characteristics as the favelas in Brazil, the townships in South Africa, or the slums in India, which have led to different definitions of favela, township and reality tourism: places as the spatial manifestation of urban poverty.

Slums are particular, unstable areas representing otherness in terms of vandalism and deprivation with an emotive power denoting opposition to order and security (Dürr 2012a). Slums involve millions of people and have persisted for many decades as a social problem. Slum urbanisation is known to be extremely difficult and expensive in terms of the creation of perceived value (Kavaratzis and Ashworth 2005); increasing competitiveness, by bringing tourism and investment to achieve community development and reinforce local identity, could improve these situations. Their histories differ from one socio-geographic region to the other: the slum in India, the gecekondu in Turkey to the favelas in Brazil and so on (Ozkan 2014).

In the tourist sector, the web has an important role. The use of the internet as a marketing tool has been broadly accepted in tourism literature, while the assessment of website effectiveness has been supported by academic researchers for some time.

The internet is rapidly becoming the number one information source for travel. In fact, the choices of the consumer are aided by the information picked up through the internet (Buhalis 2008), which is an ideal place to communicate, promote and ‘sell’ destinations and where potential clients can undertake comparisons and choices more responsibly. In fact, user-generated content and the electronic word of mouth become ever more important in travel and tourism. With the new social media the world is shifting from a word of mouth (WOM) to an ‘electronic word of mouth’ (eWOM) society. Tourists check the online reviews of hotels, restaurants or local tourist attractions in online social travel networking (like TripAdvisor and Booking.com) in order to inform themselves about the properties and decide whether and where to make a booking. These websites provide numerous reviews and generate an online rating for each property on the basis of the individual user reviews. At the same time prior research has indicated that electronic word of mouth influences book intentions and the decision making process of hotel customers and also could provide valuable information about customers’ satisfaction (Gretzel and Yoo 2008; O’Connor 2010; Serra Cantallops and Salvi 2014). Sparks and Browning (2011), for example, indicate that customers are more influenced by early negative reviews.

Just as Porter (2001) demonstrated how the internet has changed industry forces, previous research has shown that innovation, organisation and external factors can influence a firm’s decision to adopt e-commerce as a marketing and selling strategy (Wan 2002). Social media influenced by social networking is pressing suppliers who value more and more the opinions, reviews and referrals of fellow travels. These information agents represent a more reliable and trustworthy source than the suppliers themselves (Miguéns et al. 2008).

The use of the internet has become a key competitive tool and essential also for tourist destinations (Murphy et al. 2007) and offers great potential to influence consumers’ perceived images. In addition, internet promotes the mass customization of tourism products as it supports the tourist operators to target niche markets in different geographical locations (Buhalis and O’Connor 2005; Buhalis et al. 2011; Anwar et al. 2014).

There are currently 2.4 billion internet users in the world, with significant penetration ratios in regions like Asia (44.8 %), Europe (21.5 %) and the USA (11.4 %) (www.internetworldstats.com 2012). internet users in Europe, e.g. in countries such as Norway and the Netherlands, show a deep penetration: in 2012, the percentage of users of these countries exceeded 90 %.

Internet penetration in Europe is growing and travel e-commerce represents the largest use sector, surpassing more traditional uses such as internet banking or researching health information. E-tourism in Italy increased by 13 % in 2012, with a market share of e-commerce amounting to 43 % of sales. In Italy, according to recent data about nine out of 10 hospitality businesses are online with their own websites, and more than 59.4 % allow direct booking through booking systems (National Observatory of Tourism 2012). As tourists have gained more experience in tourism travel, they have also grown more critical of tour wholesalers and their products. Online channels have played a crucial role in changing the attitude of them towards their customers. They have built a direct relationship with potential tourists. Following this trend, tour operators have also been adapting their strategies for online travel retail (Dwyer et al. 2009). By using the Web and the internet as marketing tools, tourism organisations have gained some distinct advantages in cost reduction, revenue growth, marketing research and database development, and customer retention. Wang and Fesenmaier (2006) argued that a successful web marketing strategy requires the integration and coordination of website features, promotion techniques and customer relationship management programmes. Thus integrating technologies with relationship marketing could help tourism organisations and destinations to maintain competitiveness and improve the management of business relationships with customers (Álvarez et al. 2007).

Therefore, it is important to study tour wholesaler sites as sources of tourist information (i.e. the ways in which these are seen online). Websites are a new kind of information technology in terms of three phases of marketing (pre-, online and post-sale) where website success is related to four principal factors: quality of information and service; system use; playfulness; and system design quality (Liu and Arnett 2000). Website performance can be measured in various ways (Buhalis et al. 2011).

This paper evaluates tour operators websites to analyse strategic choices enacted, the attractiveness of the websites, tourist information given on slum tours and marketing effectiveness. The investigation of the online promotion of slum tours by travel companies represents the main objective of this paper. The following study is of an exploratory nature and does not investigate the number of operators that actually selling the tours online. Websites are evaluated using the extended Model of Internet Commerce Adoption (eMICA) methodological approach that draws on the evolutionary development of electronic commerce. Considering that the internet includes a wide variety of technologies, and could bring potential benefits and reach new customers, it is important that website information is complete and attractive and permits an online transaction. The goal of the current study is to find out how organisations can improve their websites and gain competitive advantage in the marketing of slum tourism. The results of the study allow a gainful contribution to the knowledge of slum tourism in the web.

The Debate Surrounding Slum Tourism and the Web

One of the major challenges facing urban planners globally is the proliferation of slums predominant in the urban economies of developing countries (e.g. India, African nations). The extent and spread of slums not only helps us to recognise that they are not anomalous and pathological phenomena in the urban landscape but also a manifestation of urban poverty (Goswami 2013).

From Rio de Janeiro to Mumbai, short, organised tours of poor areas have grown in popularity. And so too have ethical discussions on whether slum tourism or poverty tourism is educational and philanthropic, or voyeuristic and exploitative. Poverty tourism intersects with places of urban misery and their representation: slums representing the negative sides of cities, marginalised districts or ghettos and, in less developed countries, places of danger, crime and violence (Dürr 2012b) and crime against tourists is more likely to occur in areas with high crime rates (George 2003; George and Booyens 2014). Slum tourism involves the commodification of urban deprivation (Dürr and Jaffe 2012). Slum tourism has expanded in popularity, probably due to the spread of communication routes (Delic 2011) and media events; similarly, tourists who write about their experiences in virtual spaces create an increase in the demand for similar tours.

The development of guided tours in destinations and places of poverty and degradation is controversial, probably because the combination of pleasure and poverty affects the sensitivity and moral values of public opinion (Freire-Medeiros 2009). Researchers believe there are positive aspects of slum tourism (Steinbrink 2012; Obrien 2011) when proposed according to ethical and sustainable principles (Caldieron 2013) and can contribute to poverty alleviation (Frenzel 2013).

Exchanges can be positive but must improve the transformations of the neighbourhoods. In some cases, these tours offer travellers a glimpse of life in an area they might not visit otherwise, often because of logistic or safety concerns. Indeed, a study found that the majority of visitors felt safe on a township tour and were likely to recommend a tour (George and Booyens 2014).

But is slum tourism profiting from the poor? Slum tours can be unfair if communities are not involved. Local communities are mentioned all the time as a putatively existing object, out there, often imagined in a sort of cultural fixity, to be protected from tourism and possibly supported by tourism. They are normally presented as part of a broader global geography of authentic, traditional, marginal, often vulnerable and poor places in remote and less remote territory (Luh Sin and Minca 2014).

In fact, it could be suggested that inhabitants have positive attitudes towards slum tourists (Mekawy 2012), so that the appropriate form is collaborative and responsible participation in small-scale cooperatives (e.g. the government of Egypt uses cooperatives to reduce poverty).

Another example is the social urbanism policy in Medellin, Colombia, a holistic approach to the development of the poorest areas, building a more authentic and inclusive image of the city (Hernandez-Garcia 2013).

Slum tourism can be fabulously well-managed; an exchange of culture with local people; very representative of a society; a confrontation with certain stereotypes; and at the same time an escape from monotony or a search for absolutely real, objective authenticity, an experience which genuinely samples the culture of the society and the host people (Frenzel and Koens 2012). The state of art of the slum tourism research is still dominated by case studies with limited overall attempts at generalisation, probably, affirms Frenzel (2014) it depends from the real difficulties in comparing different empirical phenomena in different locations and countries.

The term slum, in vogue since the beginning of the eighteenth century, is used to describe squalid housing in densely populated areas of industrial cities. A slum is a compact area of an overcrowding population and poorly built congested dwelling conditions, an unhygienic environment usually with inadequate infrastructure lacking in proper sanitary and drinking water facilities (Goswami 2013). The concept of slum varies widely from country to country and depends on a variety of defining parameters. In some countries, slums are largely forgotten parts of a city, in others the poorest areas (Diekmann and Hannan 2012). However, it appears that slum tourism is the organisation of tours in poor areas and thus different to ‘dark’ tourism, i.e. visiting heritage sites, attractions, or events that have death, suffering or the macabre as a main theme (Strange and Kempa 2003; Stone and Sharpley 2008). The concept of slum tourism has its origin in Victorian Britain in the 1880 s when the wealthy visited poor areas in London’s East End to note the conditions in which poor people lived (George and Booyens 2014).

It is noted that holidays are perfect opportunities for so-called experiential tourists, driven by their emotions, to see what is imagined and be immersed in a culture and lifestyle of a destination; or an affirmation of the so-called ‘epidemic’ of the imaginary (Zizek 2004), in which images and desires tend to progressively replace reality; or a combination of history with social issue and are usually frequented by Western tourists (Steinbrink 2013). In fact, the tourist experience seems less and less like a discovery and is characterised as more of a ‘check’ of places of authentic culture. The sociologist Urry (2002) has shown that in the era of hyper-mobility, the tourist experience is a mere observation of spectacular places. Tourists are quick and fleeting but must prove that they have also ‘consumed’ the holiday (Cohen 1972). The role of tourism in local economic development and poverty reduction has been extensively explored since 2000 (Hall 2007; Scheyvens 2007; Harrison 2009; Rogerson and Rogerson 2010, 2011; Zapata et al. 2011). Such work has looked at direct linkages as well as the opportunities created in other sectors. Although the notion of pro-poor tourism has been extensively critiqued (Spenceley and Meyer 2012), with substantial doubts raised about its overall contribution.

The tourism of poverty may therefore be defined as tourism diversion (Cohen 2007; Ma 2010) or experiencing a difference from the boredom of daily routine (Ryan 2002), which are justified by curiosity but where a voyeuristic aspect is definitely a component (Williams 2008). There are other important but not major reasons for travel, such as the provision of benefits to the environment and local communities, typical of social tourism (Butcher 2003). In fact, many tour operators say they give back to the communities they visit and create jobs (www.favelatour.com.br).

It appears that poverty tourism could include educational aspects typical of township tourism as defined by Ramchander (2004), such as the observation of expressions of culture and ways of life typical of South Africa, or the Brazilian favela as examined by Freire-Medeiros (2007; 2012), which became a trademark and at the same time was marketed as a tourist destination. Destinations may include any landscape, an ecological site, a tourist experience, extremes or places offering consumer goods or a cultural commodity (Duarte 2010; Rolfes 2010; Meschkank 2011; Özkan 2014). Rogerson (2004; 2008; 2013) also includes poverty in this form of tourism and suggests that townships have become spaces of leisure consumption in the context of urban tourism.

Examples of organisations that organise such tours are numerous but sometimes it is necessary to specify that there are operators with social or ethical purposes that benefit local residents and improve local economies (Frenzel et al. 2012). Yet we need to ask which roles and functions illegal powers have developed in these areas. It should also be noted that, to date, the economic benefits brought by tourism in developing countries are severely limited by the phenomenon of ‘leakages’: only a small percentage of the income generated by tourism remains at the destination, while a large proportion is lost due to the import of products for tourism and the repatriation of profits to foreign entrepreneurs.

Other operators which offer regular sightseeing tours in cities have added the slum experience as an integral part of urban representation (Dürr 2012b) and culture of a town. Destination marketing supplies images of space and culture and this has a direct influence on how slum tourism is advertised. Rolfes et al. (2009) mention that slum tourists often get booked into tours through hotels or travel agencies but actually the web 2.0 business models provide services that invite users to a direct and strong participation and derive profitable returns from the several forms of advertising present online. In some cases, the slum tourism has a package and bookings that are made over the internet and payments made on arrival (Chege and Mwisukha 2013). It is important to mention the results about the reviews on tripadvisor.it with keywords used as ‘favela tour,’ ‘slum tourism India,’ ‘township tour South Africa,’ ‘slum tour Kenya’. The short research showed 188 reviews about township tour South Africa, 132 about favela tour (specially Rocinha), 100 on slum tour India and only 1 on Kenya (accessed 20/09/2014). According to Gretzel and Yoo (2008), three-quarters of travellers have considered online consumer reviews as an information source when planning their trips. In other disciplines, studies have shown online user-generated reviews could significantly influence the sales of products like books, CDs and movies (Chevalier and Mayzlin 2006). Yet, little is known about the impact of these reviews on slum tourism performance. What is the significance of web pages for slum tour operators? It become relevant as a form of communication, marketing, co-creation between tourists and operators when the choices of tourists are based not only on travel guides, brochures in hotel but travel reviewers, categorized rankings, internet blogs and on discussion rooms where specific questions about the destination can be formulated (Miguéns et al. 2008). Otherwise Rolfes (2010) affirms that the commercial motives were ranked at the highest position to offer township tours and internet has proven to be an effective means of advertising, marketing, distributing goods and information services.

Methodology

The Reworking of the MICA Model

The internet has allowed both suppliers and consumers to produce and disseminate information, conduct financial transactions and share tourist experiences to a global audience.

In order to examine the online promotion and business of company tours to slum, the analysis was developed through fact-finding data collection on the characteristics of websites using the eMICA model. The premise behind this approach is that as a website matures, so will its functionality and content. According to the original Model of Internet Commerce Adoption (MICA) model (Burgess and Cooper 2000), a number of stages and layers of maturity are proposed, from infancy to maturity: promotion, provision and processing. During the promotion stage, companies start simply by establishing a presence on the web. In doing so, they provide basic information covering business scope and post news relevant to their operations; some use animation and multimedia to draw visitors’ attention towards an important promotion offered. Users, however, cannot send anything to the site and can only receive information from promotion websites.

The second stage of website development (provision) is dynamic and offers users the functionality of sending and receiving information. This involves value-added links, access to search engines and even choices of languages. More complex applications are also embedded as integral components of interactive websites. Customers or visitors can search for information regarding products and prices. They can also register online and take part in message boards. Interactive websites encourage and entice visitors to inquire, request, complain, challenge, or make recommendations.

In the processing stage, customers play the most influential role. One of the main utilities here is customer relationship management, from initiation to maintenance. Other electronic services such as online orders or inquiries are all completed through websites. In this layer, the company creates an integrated function.

The reworking of the MICA model, or extended version (Fig. 1), provides an increased number of layers within the three main stages with the aim of deepening the study of processes in terms of functionality and sophistication of the applications of e-commerce.
Fig. 1

The eMICA stages and examples of functionality

The eMICA model has been used frequently (Doolin et al. 2002; Hashim et al. 2007; Karake Shalhoub 2007; Larson and Ankomah 2008; Lemmetyinen and Suomi 2006; Wu and Zhou 2006). Lin et al. (2009) have also used the eMICA model to study the electronic commerce application level of travel agencies but Lemmetyinen and Suomi (2006) criticised eMICA for its difficulty in applying it to the tourism business and suggested its terminology and operationalization to be improved. The strength of eMICA is that it does not require subjective judgement compared to measures used in other studies. In eMICA, the feature is either present or it is not, meaning that results from different studies can be compared (Pesonen and Palo-oja 2010).

Interactivity is the most dominant character which distinguishes the online marketing from the traditional marketing. It is an important factor to determine the validity of the tourism businesses’ online marketing. EMICA is basic on this concept; it is measuring the development of the website by its interactivity (Wu and Wu 2011). This is a point of success of this model: can be used to reflect more accurately the level of maturity of internet e-commerce both from a sector and a single business perspective (Goi 2007).

In our research, the eMICA model is used to assess the stage of e-commerce adoption by each of the websites identified. Each website was evaluated and assessed.

The research design at an early stage consisted of the development of a survey form of the information to be learned from the sites according to the model. In total, 49 variables were defined; their composition differed from the MICA model. In fact, the variables used in this study resulted from the adaptation of ideas from several authors who had previously published on the tourism sector with applied eMICA model (Pesonen and Palo-oja 2010; Ting et al. 2013).

The first step in the research was to collect a sample of enterprises promoting tours to the slums. The sample was drawn from various sources, including search engines (Google and Yahoo) utilising keyword searches using the names of countries in which slum tourism is prevalent. Examples of keywords used were ‘poverty tourism,’ ‘favela tour,’ ‘slum tourism India,’ ‘township tourism,’ and ‘poverty tour.’ This study covers a sample of websites in a group of chosen developing economies for the first time: Africa nations (specifically Kenya and South Africa), Brazil and India. A total of 19 English language websites were found before saturation was reached and website repetition occurred. While it is likely that other companies offering tours do exist, the author contends that any others have very low online visibility. It seems that so few operators are actually selling the tours online in the studied Countries. Probably given that slum tourists often get booked into tours through hotels or traditional travel agencies, considered that the tourists’ picture of slum is not positive because it is demonstrated that major percentage of tourists associate township with poverty and also crime before the booking of the tour (Rolfes 2010).

Data from the websites were collected and analysed using quantitative analysis technique.

The 19 websites (15.8 % Brazilian operators, 31.6 % Indian and 52.6 % African) were evaluated in December 2013. Each site was examined in detail and the functions performed across all the sites were grouped according to their stage level inside each layer.

For processing data, we used descriptive statistics that allowed us to examine variables in terms of presence/absence. Each variable measured was assigned a progressive score, equated with a layer in the model, starting with 0.5 (stage 1—promotion) up to a maximum score of 3 (stage 3—processing). Overall, a database of 1,078 results was created (49 attributes for 19 sites). In addition, comparing the sites, we built a positioning map of the tour operators in terms of market orientation.

Results

Web approaches and interventions of key actors

A number of key themes emerged from the analysis of the websites, primarily related to company profiles, website design and website visual and textual content. Most importantly, it was observed that a hard sell approach, focussed on low price, reality appeal and local culture dominated the majority of the sampled companies. The tourist product sold refers to tours including lunch, while others offered it as an additional extra, or the opportunity to stop for a break in a house real at the customer’s request. There are some differences from tours in Africa than Brazil.

The research showed that all of the websites under examination were in the promotion and provision stages and only two were in the processing stage. All of the websites were classified according to one of the three stages. Table 1 presents the classification of the sites by stage of development; as indicated, all sites were classified in the promotion stage. This is not surprising since the variables of this layer are a very basic websites with an e-mail contact and images of slums. In four sites, we found good animations and an appealing slogan.

As indicated in the research aims, the goal was to assess the attractiveness and other aspects of the websites as contributors to slum tourism. Some sites offering opportunities for consumers to interact had a higher number of unique features than other sites. Good quality website design is not only based on the developer’s perceptions but also customer acceptance and perception (Day 1997).

The sites with high scores located within the provision stage (see Tables 2 and 3) had numerous links to further information such as prices (63.2 %), awards and certification (73.7 %), maps (15.8 %) and videos (21.1 %). This result is supported by the results of Rolfes (2010) where reports that the majority of operators intend to present an authentic image of slum, favelas to show the everyday and real life also to correct the public insight of these places, which is dominated by crime and violence. Ethical information (21.1 %) was ranked at the low position. The tour companies have to work to economic aims but some of them remarked using a share of their profit to support particular projects in the local communities.
Table 2

Percentage of websites where factors are present in the provision stage

Links to information

Language options

Sitemaps

Ethical information

Social network links

RSS feeds

Webcams

FAQ

Guides

Pricing information

Awards/reviews

68.4

26.3

15.8

21.1

68.4

5.3

0.0

15.8

31.6

63.2

73.7

Table 3

Percentage of websites where factors are present in the provision stage (continued)

Publicity

Transport

Maps

Weather

Downloads

Stories

Site search engines

Accessibility

Mobile function

Videos

Updats

10.5

94.7

10.5

0.0

0.0

73.7

10.5

0.0

0.0

21.1

10.5

At layers 3 and 4 of stage provision, the value-added sites became increasingly interactive and included integration of social media but only 68.4 % referred to social networks (e.g. Facebook) and none presented virtual trips. Although the degree to which sites were linked to other sites was satisfactory (68.4 %), many websites did not include sitemaps (15.8 %) or the date on which information had been updated (10.5 %).

When consumers tell others about the best services they received, services are often requested through the same operator (94.7 % of sites sell tours included transport from hotel with a guided tour). Almost three out of every four sites (73.7 %) had travel reviews; because word of mouth marketing is very powerful this is the most frequently used source of information by consumers when booking travel.

However, the incorporation of higher levels of functionality such as blogs was not evidenced in any of the sites evaluated.

A significant finding of this study was the number of sites not offering elements of the processing stage (see Table 4). In fact, only one of the websites allowed tourists to make bookings online; on the remaining websites (89.5 %), the potential client could fill in an inquiry form determining availability of tours. In many cases, the slum tour organisations are at a low stage of adoption of internet commerce.
Table 4

Percentage of websites where factors are present in processing stage

Inquiry form

Booking online tours (without credit card)

Offline gadget payment

Offline tour payments

E-commerce gadgets

Booking online tours with credit card

89.5

15.8

21.1

15.8

0.0

5.3

The majority incorporated numerous levels of development consistent with the three layers identified at the provision stage of eMICA but not a full adoption to sell tours or gadget e-commerce with online payments. In other words, only 5.3 % of the websites have developed to that stage. It is difficult for slum websites analysed to reach this stage. This may indicate that many people are reluctant to make credit card transactions online for some scruple, especially secure payment or tour operators are not so digital to make e-commerce. The only important factor for these operators is making sure they offer good and reliable services. Customers should get more than what they expected.

The study also revealed several additional findings: none of the websites offered discussion forums; none of the website had a currency converter; only 26.5 % had information about restaurants; and only five sites had language options. These findings are surprising, especially since these organisations are geared towards promoting internationally orientated businesses like slum tourism.

A map was made of the behaviour of organisations under analysis (Fig. 2). It is based on two main dimensions: promotion and provision (variables detected in the two stages). These were also given a score for a third stage (transactions), measuring the size of the point identified by the two previous measures.
Fig. 2

Map of slum tour organisations. A = African sites; I = Indian sites; B = Brazilian sites

The simple observation of the ranking of the websites examined in the graph introduces some considerations. Firstly, the concentration of sites near mid to high values for both stages is evident (x = 4.2; y = 15.7). There are few tour operators that fully exploit the potential of the Web to match demand and supply and to contribute to slum tourism promotion.

It is possible to hypothesise three sets of strategic behaviour. A first group is formed by a set of organisations that does not seem to attribute any importance to Web strategy. In this group, the levels of provision and promotion do not reach high scores.

The sites appear as a presence on the Web with no particular goals (as basic information is not provided). There is a second group of sites among which the home page is dedicated to slum tourism and which are fairly complete from the point of view of information; the levels of interactivity reach discrete scores. The presence on the Web seems based on information content of a good quality, sometimes aimed at different users with respect to technological innovation.

Finally, there is a third group of organisations which is very small (two sites), where in addition to levels of promotion and provision reaching satisfactory results, business transactions were also practised which gave international promotion to slum tourism. These operators have voluntarily designed a strategy behind the site and the use of the Web as a tool for image promotion and communication, as well as a vehicle of information for the market.

Discussion and Conclusion

The Oscar winning films City of God (Brazil, 2002) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008) as being largely responsible for the increased interest in the Brazilian favelas and Indian slums as a tourist destination. Both films initiated and increased demand for favela and slum tours but there is no doubt that an important information channel is the internet and the website’s attractiveness of the operators. There are more and more studies about website marketing effectiveness in tourism but it seems clear that slum tourism operators, like all operators, could benefit from good marketing of their products. In what ways slum tourism different to other form of tourism in terms of the requirements for its online strategy? Should one visit favelas? It is a difficult question and a deeply personal one? And certainly, having seen the slums (regardless of how many other groups are also filing through), few will regret the experience.

While the commodification of death for the tourism industry has long been recognised and the trivialisation of difficult heritage is an equally established discourse in geographies of tourism literature (Ashworth 2004), it is nonetheless likely the pervasiveness and marketing methods of slum tour companies may surprise. One company, for example, goes as far as categorising favelas under ‘theme parks’ in its website structure; in what is arguably one of the least subtitle exemplifications of ‘disneyfication’ a social science researcher will encounter.

While this paper does not suggest that the increasing demand to visit to the slums is a result of the number of internet tour companies, there is a clear argument that such companies are becoming aware of the importance of the online audiences. The online promotion of slum tours also represents an alternative to sell the poverty.

Results show that slum tour organisations on the Web are at a relatively sophisticated stage of development; it presents as a viable tool for promotion of slum tourism and complementary information channels. Further, the results of the study provide additional confirmation of the staged approach to development of commercial websites proposed by eMICA. As the design and maintenance of an electronic marketplace on the Web about slum tourism is still in relative infancy, there is limited knowledge for businesses. Products based on a travel experience could not be delivered without a distribution network (traditional and online). It is evident that the e-tourism, which is supported by Buhalis et al. (2011) will be focused on consumer-centric technologies that will support organisations in interacting with their customers dynamically.

The results of the present study provide some guidelines for improving the e-commerce possibilities of a website of slum operators. Yet they need of continual monitoring of development, functionality and more sophisticate. Innovative technologies will support interoperability, personalization and competitiveness respect others tourist operators. It is important to slum wholesalers more training to optimise adoption on the internet not only advertising but e-transactions. Furthermore, services after payment should be followed and also the feedback after the tours is important. This layer which includes following services is not presented in eMICA model, but it is important and significant considering the characteristic of slum tour. The eMICA is a useful but not a fool-proof model to examine the important properties of websites. It is especially useful as a benchmarking tool (Pesonen and Palo-oja 2010). By using eMICA, it was possible to identify the features the tour wholesalers have and do not have on their websites. This provides opportunity for companies to gain competitive advantage by investing on value-adding features that their traditional competitors do not have. In the context of the websites in this study, competitive advantage could be gained by investing in interactivity.

A limit of this analysis is that the results cannot be generalised because the sample is limited in terms of number and differences exist between organisational dimensions and investments, especially in using the Web to compete. This study also examined websites using keywords and with content written only in English. In addition, a limitation is that tourists’ opinions on the marketing effectiveness of the websites and the level of their satisfaction of what was presented on the web were not included. It was assumed in this study that internet marketing and website design is important for all travel companies. In reality, it might not be the case as different companies have different marketing strategies. Some companies can emphasise on traditional brochures to reach their target markets whereas some use book guide or other media as a marketing channel. Different marketing strategies can also affect website design, some segments can for example use internet only to find information and then book their holidays through travel agency. This is the reason why e-commerce adoption cannot be measured by only using website design. Interviews or questionnaires to accompany website evaluation would probably provide better results, even though answers can be difficult to obtain.

Future research may therefore conduct tourist surveys since destination sites could be as competitive if it can attract potential slum tourists. Finally, this paper suggests that the role played by such companies in relation to slum raises many ethical questions.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Scienze della FormazioneUniversity of CataniaCataniaItaly

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