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Ethnicity and Tourism: the case of Roma travellers

Ethnicity and Tourism: the case of Roma travellers
Author: Jenni Heiman
2 Commentries
Previous ethnicity related tourism studies have explored the holiday behaviour of Irish, Asian and African diasporas living in the UK and USA as well as ethnic conflicts and positive impacts arisen from tourism development in Third World countries e.g. Kenya (e.g. Hughes and Allen, 2010; Jamison, 1999). Findings from earlier studies show that belonging to a specific ethnic minority influences peoples' destination choices, and that the cooperation required to reach mutual tourism business objectives can increase tolerance between inter-ethnic groups.

Most of the literature on the gypsy ethnic minority has focused on gypsies' historical migration, discrimination and human rights as well as on prejudices (Bercovici, 2003; Angus, 1992; Liégeois, 1986). Few studies have made a connection between gypsies as an ethnic group and tourism (Wiley, 2005; Picken, 2006). This lack of research on gypsy related ethnic tourism is the basis for this paper and for applying historical facts and ethnic tourism concepts from other studies to understand what kind of tourism and travel is popular amongst gypsies also known as Roma.

The continuous mobile life of Roma has partly been the consequence of discrimination and persecution which they faced when entering Europe, another reason which may have made gypsies avoid staying in one place for longer time is the deprivation of gypsy children from their parents to diminish their population.

Finding work and making a living have also created the need to move around. Vasecka and Vasecka (2003) suggest that gypsies' mass migration from Slovakia has been the result of downgrading of Romani members socioeconomic status, attitudes within some Romani groups and skepticism against non-Romani institutions. Slovakian media has been noted to make a reference to ethno-tourism when conversing on Romani migration. It is believed that Roma have attempted to migrate from non-EU countries to EU countries to find better financial situations.

Scholars have argued that the diaspora concept should not be used in connection with European based Roma communities because Roma do not have a longing for their "homeland", even though genetical and linguistic findings reveal that their origins can be traced to North West India.

Toninato (2009) refers in her writing to Safran (1991: 86-87): "Roma/Gypsies have 'no precise notion of their place of origin, no clear geographical focus, and no history of national sovereignty' and that they are a 'truly homeless people'."

Consequently, theories mentioned earlier, in connection with Irish, Asian and African diasporas which consider the ancestral land as number one destination to travel to and long for, do not apply to Roma who have no ties or a sense of belonging to some specific place.

Picken (2006: 299) writes in her book review about the gypsy life's association with tourism:

"gypsies share a real and imagined heritage of pilgrimage unto themselves and carnival unto others, both of which continue an association with tourists and tourism today. Gypsies represent a way of life that engages with tourism through both 'travelling' and 'attraction', both 'on the move' and 'performers'."

Gypsy travel is often a combination of work and leisure; this is because they have to make a living while being on the road most of the time. Commonly they are seen as performers in circuses or music groups or as tradesmen. In the same manner as tourists are controlled by pre-marked attractions and settings (Picken, 2006), gypsies are designated spaces in many of the villages and towns they visit, these spaces are often situated in camping sites and peripheries.

Conflicts between Roma and permanent residents living along the Roma traveller routes are common due to varying interests of these two community groups. In some cases local people see Roma as a nuisance because of their practices such as having no sanitation facilities, using local peoples' fences as firewood, damaging the environment with their wagons and caravans, being loud etc. Wherever Roma go they become the object of local gaze, they are observed due to their unique appearance and customs. Often they are monitored because of prejudice and association with petty crime e.g. stealing.

One of the places where gypsies return year after year is located in Westmorland, Northern England where the Appleby Horse Fair is organised (Holloway, 2004). This gypsy event attracts approximately 10 000 gypsies and 30-50 000 visitors yearly. The fair has been severely under threat at least twice during the post-war period, locals wanting to abolish the fair by complaining about dirt and disease risks that it brings along.

Another event, which gathers 10-15 000 gypsies together, is the yearly organised Gypsy Pilgrimage to Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, a fishing village, in Southern France (Wiley, 2005). During this festival gypsies celebrate and pay their respect to two of their patrons, Saint Mary and Saint Sarah. The festivities bring about traditional gypsy music, dance and storytelling between friends and relatives and a more commercial side due to participating tourists and journalists and local people who want to benefit economically from the festival.

Although gypsies represent the largest ethnic minority in Europe and the gypsy way of life engages with tourism in many ways, they are relatively underrepresented in the western tourism industry - both as potential customers and as travel and event organisers. A lot can be learned from the travel experiences of gypsies, but a question arises on how to get this isolated and excluded ethnic minority more involved in the tourism industry?


Angus, M.F. (1992) The Peoples of Europe: The Gypsies. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Bercovici, K. (2003) Story of the Gypsies. London: Kessinger Publishing.

Holloway, S.L. (2004) Rural roots, rural routes: discourses of rural self and travelling other in debates about the future of Appleby New Fair, 1945-1969. Journal of Rural Studies, vol. 20, pp. 143-156.

Hughes, H. and Allen, D. (2010) Holidays of the Irish diaspora: the pull of the "homeland"?. Current Issues in Tourism, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 1-19.

Jamison, D. (1999) Tourism and Ethnicity: The Brotherhood of Coconuts. Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 944-967.

Liégeois, J-P. (1986) Gypsies: an illustrated history. Michigan: Al Saqi Books.

Picken, F. (2006) book reviews: Gypsies: An Illustrated History by Jean-Pierre Liégeois. Tourist Studies, vol. 6, pp. 299-301.

Toninato, P. (2009) The Making of Gypsy Diasporas. Translocations: Migration and Social Change, vol. 5, issue 1, pp. 1-19.

Vasecka, I. and Vasecka, M. (2003) Recent Romani migration from Slovakia to EU member states: Romani reaction to discrimination or Romani ethno-tourism?. Nationalities Papers, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 29-47.

Wiley, E. (2005) Romani Performance and Heritage Tourism: The Pilgrimage of the Gypsies at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. The Drama Review, vol. 49, no. 2, pp. 135-158.
Roma's - A very specific ethnic minority?
Author: Heli Raudaskoski
This discussion paper focuses on ethnicity and tourism, and is strongly concentrating on Roma travellers. The primary reason why I chose to comment on this paper was that I found the paper to be a very interesting read. Moreover; my personal conference paper is covering a similar topic. My paper discusses ethnic minorities' travel behaviour in a more general level. This paper could therefore be seen as a continuance for my own paper.

This paper is very useful in investigating ethnic minorities' travelling especially in the case of Roma's. It offers an insight of the gypsy culture, which is dominated by "the continuous mobile life". An interesting fact is that Romans "have no ties or a sense of belonging to some specific place"; therefore their travelling motivations are very different to other minorities, i.e. to African-Americans, who travel in order to maintain their "social, economical and cultural ties" (Grillo, 2008) with their countries of origin.

The author has definitely chosen a fresh topic, which is a good addition to the conference. Personally, it was the first time I am reading about gypsies from a travel point of view. It comes as no surprise to me that not a lot of tourism literature can be found on Roma's; maybe this is because gypsies as a topic has and still does appear as a taboo in some extent?

This conference paper covers the chosen topic very well, including a definition for gypsies, an explanation of their culture, examples and conflicts between "Roma and permanent residents living along the Roma traveller routes". As "gypsy travel is often a combination of work and leisure… they have to make a living while being on the road most of the time" (Picken, 2006). This ethnic minority's travel behaviours are very specific to their culture and different to any other minorities.

The author has used a good variety of references including books and articles. There are both recent publications as well some that date back to the 1980s.

The structure of the discussion paper is good. The text can be followed easily; there is a natural continuity in the text. Introduction and conclusion can be clearly recognised. However, the discussion paper is lacking an abstract and key words, which would have helped conference visitors in scanning through different papers in various strands.

The question aroused by the author in the final paragraph asks how to get this isolated and excluded ethnic minority more involved in the tourism industry. As the tourism industry has started to recognise the differing needs of ethnic minorities, I think that the next step would be to study specifically the industry's attitudes towards different minorities such as gypsies. Also, can evidence be found that there is an increase in gypsies' traveling?
The elusive panacea for the cursed gypsies
Author: Chris Hobson
Firstly I corroborate your sentiments that much knowledge can be garnered from Roma travellers. Hence I found this work to be of a genuine interest, fundamentally as 'Roma Travellers' is a domain of the tourism academia I would not have previously considered, conceivably due to my own prejudicial stance. Ostensibly a consequence of how the population at large is socialised regarding gypsies by such films as 'Borat'! And rather ironic considering gypsies could well be deemed the only proper tourists of contemporary society as highlighted in the article. Moreover my eyes were drawn to the paper by its elucidation of large scale events of numerous gypsies in one location notably that of Appleby, England which I was unacquainted to beforehand.

The work is satisfactorily organised perhaps slightly too disproportioned in favour of descriptive material. However theoretically by means of literature the discipline of 'ethnic tourism' has been substantially researched by the author concomitant with a good knowledge of the central theories. The key characteristics of roma travellers are well elaborated in the paper as well as why these folk can be categorised as an ethnic race. Subsequently the paper pertinently highlights the conflicts of interests occurring between parties and the discriminatory attitudes which such roma travellers are confronted with dating back centuries.

To challenge your departing question, I would query the potential of getting gypsies more involved in private enterprise and commodifying them, as would they be wishing to get more involved as they themselves sometimes possess prejudicial views towards modern capitalistic society. Thus this case embodies almost a catch 22 situation. Furthermore I am sceptical about a sustainable prospect for gypsy business ventures as the article illuminates unsustainable practices transpiring within socio-cultural factors of antecedent events. In addition gypsies themselves possess little economic capital to spend in the local 'visitor economy', bringing into doubt their fiscal value as tourists or tourist hosts.

To resolve such challenges and dissipate intolerant behaviour against gypsies a quantum societal change would have to occur, which is contemporarily highly unlikely. The sole solution for one of the events discussed above I would argue is for a dialogue approach to be adopted akin to contemporary family decision making which I discussed. In which the requirements of all parties are coalesced by diplomatic conferencing e.g. local communities, gypsies.

In summation, an insightful and very well articulated attempt to discuss an underrepresented subject area. My general understanding of the argument is that the bigoted ideas which gypsies face through 'brand tarnishing' impedes this community and tourism may be another aspect of this. Lamentable considering such a segment and their ability to attract the 'tourist gaze' and worldwide recognition may indicate an economic potentiality for some isolated communities in Europe and possibly the world. And if carefully managed gypsy tourism involvement could feasibly have a future, and thus may act as a medium for reducing the traditional negative stigmatisation of gypsies.