The lecture focuses on introducing the fast-growing concept of tourism to economically less developed areas, also known as slum tourism, the ethical issues that it needs to deal with, its governance and the ways it may contribute to local development.

AUDIO: Ko Koens - "Slum Tourism"


Issues which the lecture addresses

The importance of urban tourism as an economic activity has strongly risen in recent years. Not only have urban tourist numbers increased, but tourists also increasingly venture out in new parts of cities. This ‘off the beaten track’ tourism offers opportunities for local economic development, particularly in economically impoverished areas. However, it can also cause disturbances and create conflicts between different groups of residents, visitors and industry actors. In this lecture the ethical debate regarding the place of tourism in modern cities is framed using a facilitated bottom-up sustainable city governance perspective to balance the interests of different city actors.

Short analysis of the above issues

The lecture draws on a series of research projects, performed in the past 10 years, that have focused on the issues that arise when urban tourists venture to new neighbourhoods. This includes work on “slum tourism”, where tourists visit economically impoverished urban areas in the Global South, as well as work dealing with the growing visitor pressure exerted by tourists on large capital cities in the Global North. It builds on the premise that an increase of visitor numbers to cities will require effective governance, which includes careful consideration of different interests. Doing so means learning from the actual experiences of those affected by urban tourism and facilitating different initiatives under a united framework.

Propositions for addressing the issue

Ko Koens discusses slum tourism, the ethical conflicts that may come with it and its potential contribution to local economic development.

  1. To provide a broader understanding of the concept of slum tourism, he starts with a short history of slum tourism, starting in Victorian London and ending with the current practices of Global slum tourism.
  2. Next, the ethical issues of slum tourism are discussed, many of which are touched upon in media reports on this form of tourism. In his discussion, Ko looks at both positive and negative impacts, highlighting how the ethical issues at hand are very similar to those of tourism development in other regions. The extreme nature of slum tourism serves to bring into full view these ethical debates surrounding tourism development, in particular where there is an imbalance in power relations between visitor and host community, or within host communities.
  3. Finally, Ko deals with the importance of inclusive governance structures that accommodate for wider local economic development, emphasizing the need to work on increasing the institutional and mobilization capacity of host communities. These are currently often insufficient, yet are essential to better deal with the negatives of slum tourism and make it possible for host communities to capitalise on its potential benefits.


Dr. Ko Koens is an Associate Professor at NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences. His main research interests are city hospitality, sustainable urban tourism and slum tourism, with a specific focus on governance, small businesses and entrepreneurship. In addition, he is the taskforce coordinator for sustainable development for the Dutch “Centre of Expertise in Leisure, Tourism and Hospitality” (CELTH). Ko has numerous academic publications on sustainable tourism and is editor of the books “Slum Tourism: Poverty, Power and Ethics” and “Tourism and Geographies of Inequality: The New Global Slumming Phenomenon”. His current focus is the concept of visitor pressure in cities and simulating the sustainable development of urban tourism and transport. Within this context he has worked together with various European cities (e.g. Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin). Ko is project manager of the Horizon 2020 project “SmartCityHospitality” (, which focuses on using concepts like smart citizenship and city hospitality to achieve sustainable urban tourism.


Find all Global Urban Lectures videos here.

See all Global Urban Lectures full packages (video, synopsis, biographies, additional reading material) here.

The Global Urban Lecture series is an initiative by UNI – UN-Habitat’s partnership with universities worldwide.

All videos are also available on the UN-Habitat