Ethnic Tourism in London

Date: Jul 8, 2019


Nowadays people all over the world travel a lot. It may be either a business trip, or a trip with friends or colleagues for a weekend, or spending vacations with a family by the sea or in the mountains. Besides, there are a lot of means of travelling; one may chose whatever he or she likes: travelling by bus, by car, by ship, by plane or by train. Travelling by ship and plane are very popular nowadays. A plane is to deliver a person fast to the destination point and while travelling by a ship, one has the best service during the whole trip and fascinating view in the outside, from a window.

In the past years different kinds of tourism appeared. Some people prefer calm relaxation, spending vacations on the beach, lying in the sun; some prefer mountain climbing or deep sea diving, and travelling companies offer variable activities. Besides, there are those who prefer to be lost in city jungles, find out something new and unusual on city streets; there are those who do not strive to escape a big city, they are eager to unite with it. Those people are known as urban tourists, and their hobby is urban tourism. According to Karski (1990), urban tourism has appeared at the times of Mesopotamia and Sumeria, where people liked to go to big cities and feel the atmosphere there (1990, pp.15-17). There were attracted by the greatness and development of big cities. That is why most of the theatres, museums, and art exhibitions are located in big cities.

This research paper is aimed to demonstrate the implications, advantages and disadvantages inherent in the ethnic tourism. To achieve this, qualitative methods were used: mainly interviews of different social groups of citizens, comparing the results and making the conclusions. This paper is to show that ethnic tourism may prove a lasting attraction to all those interested in the historical legacy and ethnic communities of the places and cities they are visiting.

Aims and Objectives

Gospodini (2001) states that urban tourism needs a lot of money in order to be investigated; people should be more and more interested in visiting the city (2001, p.932). That is why new tourist routes are made up, special museums and art exhibitions or galleries are built, music halls are opened. This enables the city to remain interesting for the people; besides it has a great influence on the development of the city itself, because urban tourism brings impressive income to the city budget. However, there are not so many cities which can be proud of thousands, or even millions, of urban tourists visiting them every year. One of such cities is London.

London is not only the capital of the United Kingdom, it is also cultural and economical capital of the country, the city with rich history, where one can find what he or she likes. London is one of the best places for urban tourism on the planet. Not only because it is a very old city, but also because one may find modern buildings and old palaces there, traditional London pubs and sushi restaurants in China town. In the past years London has become the city of contrasts, which attracts people from all over the world. This research paper is aimed to introduce the ethnic tourism in London.

The following research questions shall be discussed in this field report:

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of ethnic tourism?
  • What ethnic groups are represented in the city of London and how may the ethnic tourism in London conditioned by their presence?
  • What influence may ethnic tourism have upon the development of London as a major tourist destination?

Urban Tourism as a Phenomenon

Many researchers discuss whether urban tourism is advantageous for the development of a national tourist industry. There are a lot of dissertations and researches made on this topic. Christopher Law (2002) in his book Urban Tourism: The Visitor Economy and the Growth of Large Cities states that there are primary, secondary and additional reasons for urban tourism (2002, p.73). Primary reason relate to the places a tourist wants to visit the most. That is why such places should be cared about; besides, entrance therein may cost some money. Secondary reasons include primary stores and accommodations; additional reasons include transport. Urban tourists visit not only modern buildings and pieces of art, they are also eager to find out more about the historical legacy of the city, e.g. how it was built, what was a hundred years ago on the place where one or another building stands or when one or another house or palace is built (Hovinen 1995). Tourists may also visit fairies or some festivals, which represent culture and life of ethnic groups. To understand better the difference between primary, secondary and additional reasons for urban tourism, Law (2002) proposes to the readers the following list:


Activity Place

Cultural Facilities

  • Museums and Art Galleries
  • Theaters and Cinemas
  • Concert Halls
  • Convention Centers
  • Other Visitor Attractions

Sport Facilities

  • Indoor and Outdoor

Amusement Facilities

  • Night Clubs
  • Casinos and Bingo Halls
  • Organised Events
  • Festivals

Physical Characteristics

  • Historical Street Pattern
  • Interesting Buildings
  • Ancients Monuments and Statues
  • Parks and Green Areas
  • Waterfronts (Harbor, Canal, River)

Socio-Cultural Features

  • Liveliness of the Place
  • Language
  • Local Customs and Costumes
  • Cultural Heritage
  • Friendliness
  • Security

Leisure Setting


  • Accommodation
  • Catering Facilities
  • Shopping
  • Markets


  • Accessibility
  • Transportation and Parking
  • Tourist Information (maps, signs, guides)

Besides, some city districts may be created for urban tourists, where most of the primary elements may be concentrated, which will help tourists orient themselves better in the city.

Authenticity of Ethnic Tourism

Unlike urban tourism at large, ethnic tourism is predicated upon the notion of the site’s cultural authenticity. Thus, the people engaging in ethnic tourism are motivated by the search for the exotic and unusual.

Ethnic tourists aim to see and meet something authentic; they search for intimate contact with people, who have different culture and daily life than them. They are driven mostly by curiosity to find something new and unknown in the world. Tourists prefer to experience different practices of the culture. (Selby 2004, p.58)

On the other hand, ethnic tourism is an expensive business, because it needs more money and effort. To make a village or district seem ‘ethnic’ means not only to build authentic houses and enlist the representatives of the relevant ethnic culture to live in them; it also means to make those people live like in their ethnic territory (Harron & Weiler 1992).

Ethnic tourists are mostly from urbanised and industrial territories and locals are the representatives of the so-called “Forth World”: they do not participate much in the political, economical and cultural life of the world. It happens often that ethnic tourists consider themselves as being from higher society, and behave themselves like ethnic people should thank them for the world's development. However, it is most likely that relations between a tourist and an ethnic representative may become spontaneous. (Smith & Robinson 2006, p.185)

London as a Hub for Ethnic Tourism

London is one of the global cities offering not only well-known tourist routes, but also some places for ethnic tourism. The most interesting of the latter are Chinatown and Brick Lane.

Chinatown forms part of the Soho and occupies the area in and around Gerrard Street. At the beginning of the last century this territory was inhabited by the Chinese immigrants, who had built there restaurants, bakeries, houses for living, souvenir shops, etc. However, nothing of those was as bright and prominent as it is nowadays. London’s Chinatown had bad fame, because of its opium dens and slum houses (Seed 2006, pp.58-59). However, most of the territory of Chinatown was destroyed during the Blitzkrieg. After the Second World War, Chinese cuisine became very popular, and more restaurants were opened (Sales et al. 2009, pp.45-48).

Nowadays there are more than eighty Chinese cuisine restaurants in London`s Chinatown. Besides, there is a residential block, Vale Royal House, which was built in the 1980th and where the Chinese still live. On the other hand, everything is not as good as it seems. There were some claims to the police that illegal immigrants work in Chinatown`s restaurants, shops, bakeries, etc. That is why almost fifty people were arrested for illegal residence in the country, but the local businessmen held a strike and the police stopped apprehending these people.

More and more ethnic tourists are attracted by London`s Chinatown not only because of the Chinese cuisine or people, but also because they may feel the Chinese atmosphere. Chinese people celebrate their holidays, for example the Chinese New Year, which became more like an entertainment for tourists (Newell 1989, pp.63-64). London Chinatown is a part of China in the heart of London.

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Another place to be visited by an ethnic tourist is Brick Lane. It is a street in London, which is nowadays the residence of Bangladeshi-mixed community. Brick Lane is also known as Banglatown (Heyns 2008, p.236). This area has a long history, because Brick Lane street was inhabited by the Huguenots in the seventeenth century, then they were followed by Irish, Ashkenazi Jews, and in the 20th century Bangladeshi started to inhabit the street (Mavromattis 2006, p.500). Since that time this district became the centre of tailoring, weaving and clothing industry. Brick Lane is slightly different from London Chinatown. It is not only because the Bangladeshi live here for relatively short period of time, but also because main activities of the people living there are not typical for the Bangladeshi.

In the 17th century Brick Lane was famous for its brewing factories and a big market, where fruits and vegetables were sold. However, this street has the dark side: it is the street where Jack the Ripper killed his first victim (Keppel et al 2005, p.3). In the 20th century the district became very important for the development of the Anglo-Indian cuisine. More people from Bangladesh came to London to look for a job, they settled in Brick Lane and started to build curry restaurants, which became very popular among Londoners, as well as among tourists (Aftab, Hanson, & Vaughan 2005, pp.130-135). Besides, Brick Lane became the centre of fine arts and fashion exhibitions, which attract tourists.

Methodology and Results

Some research should be made in order to understand the implications of ethnic tourism. There were some techniques used, which may help to analyse the data better. First of all, to make a proper field research one should understand the main ideas of the research and set the goal. This research is aimed to help the tourism manager and the government of a country to understand that ethnic tourism should be developed and financed. London is a big and famous city, but not every person knows that there are some ethnic areas to be visited. After that, an interview was held. The interview is aimed to understand whether it is interesting for tourists to visit not only modern, urbanised buildings, but also ethnic, authentic districts of the city.

Method and the Participants

Five people belonging to different social groups and being of different age and nationality participated in the interview. They were: a 22 year old Chinese girl; a businessman from London, 47 year old; a 16 old Londoner whose parents are Chinese; a 65 year old pensioner from Ohio and a 50 year old immigrant from Thailand who works in one of the restaurants in Chinatown. They all were asked the same questions: “Have you ever been to the ethnic districts of London?”; “As for you, whether it is important to develop such kind of tourism?; “Would you like to have a tour in the ethnic districts of the city?”; “Is it helpful to find something new about the world cultures?”

The Participants’ Responses

Such a method helps not only to understand whether it is profitable for economy and tourism business to develop ethnic tourism, but also gives the researcher and everyone interested in the field, to see clearly what group of people is more eager to become closer to authentic culture of different people. According to the research that have been made the results of the interview are the following:

  1. The Chinese interviewee provided the following reply: I visit Chinatown once or twice a week, because it helps not to forget my motherland, and it seems that I am not so far from China, when I am here. I think that ethnic tourism should be further developed, because there are people who are not very rich, but still eager to see the world. And if the ethnic tourism is developed, one may see different counties and cultures in one city, one may see the real life of the people, and not only the cultural and industrial achievements of the country. While I love to visit Chinatown, I would like to have a guided tour in all the ethnic districts of London.
  2. The interviewee who has identified himself as a businessman gave the following answer: I have never been to any ethnic districts of London, but I would like to visit all of them to find something new. You see, the global markets are growing very fast, and I have no time to travel around the world; that is I would prefer to have such a tour in London. I think that the engagement in such kind of tourist activities may help me understand the city’s diverse cultures better and, thus, have more business contacts.
  3. The 16 year old Londoner said that Thanks to London`s Chinatown, I now know a lot about the country of my parents, I have got acquainted with the traditions and habits of my ancestors. I am not sure whether such kind of tourism should be developed or not, but nevertheless, I would like to have a guided tour around London to see the other ethnic districts.
  4. The pensioner from Ohio replied as follows: I have never even been to London before, so I would like to see such kind of tourism developed in the United States. I believe that such kind of tourism may help people understand each other better and, perhaps, wars may be stopped. It may help people find a common language, understand each other better and faster and respect the difference between cultures.
  5. The immigrant from Thailand work in one of the restaurants in London’s Chinatown. He said that China is not so far from my home country and this atmosphere there helps me not to forget who I am and where I am from. I have been to Brick Lane once, and I liked curry restaurants there. I also want to visit other ethnic districts in London. I got a job in Chinatown in London, and thus I am able to help my parents with the money I sent to them. I think that ethnic tourism helps to develop not only the economy of one country, but also that of the world.

In my opinion, the answers by 5 participants attest to the great interest felt at the development of ethnic tourism by different constituencies and population groups. The answers provided by the businessman and by the Thai restaurant employee may be conceptualized within the framework of understanding ethnic tourism as a source of additional profits and job opportunities to London’s economy. This perspective may be termed a ‘socio-economic’ one, being connected to the respective concerns provided in Newell’s (1989) research on the socio-economic of the Chinese New Year celebration in London. On the other hand, the Chinese interviewee and the 16-year Londoner indicated their interest in knowing more about both their ancestral and the other cultures of the city, attesting to the impact of London’s multiculturalism on the new generations’ thinking (Sales et al 2009; Mavromattis 2006). Finally, the pensioner from Ohio’s opinion reflected the ambiguous attitude toward ethnic tourism that may be common to the majority of the middle to senior age public (Harron & Weiler 1992).

According to this table, both Chinatown and Brick Lane districts are rather important not only in cultural sense, but they also are historical spaces. Both of these districts have long and sometimes unusual and horrible history, but these very factors may attract tourists. Chinatown may become the centre of authentic entertainment, because Chinese people have many interesting traditions, such as the Chinese New Year, which may become the second New Year celebration in London. Many tourists will visit the celebration, and, thus, the city budget will be increased. Brick Lane Street has rich history, and, as it was the industrial centre during the time of the Irish and Jewish people, it will be interesting for tourists to find out more about the history of the district development, and how it became inhabited by the Bangladeshi population.

Results and Discussion

According to the results received from the interviews, one may conclude that all of the participants would like to have the guided tour in the ethnic, authentic districts of London; they say it will become a good experience. Such eagerness indicates that for many modern Europeans, the lack of exposure to ethnic cultures of their neighbours serve as an incentive to try and explore them. While this earning for cultural authenticity may be disregarded as mere search for the exotic, it still plays an important part in our contemporaries’ psyche. Visiting such places may show tourists the particular country represented in miniature, and perhaps later they will want to visit the original country itself. Ethnic tourism would thus be a factor contributing to exploring the greater heterotopia (i.e. diverse spatial conditions) of the post-modern city, giving its visitors and residents the better opportunity to grasp the latter’s complexity (Heyns 2008).

Furthermore, the development of ethnic tourism in Britain would be conducive to the growth of tourists’ appreciation of the nations from which the respective ethnic cultures’ members originated. This means that not only the economy of the United Kingdom will be developed, but also the economies of China and Bangladesh, which are relatively poor nations. That is why such routes should be created and the government is to consider such projects thoroughly. Besides, there are many immigrants from the Asian countries in the United Kingdom, as well as in London (Gardener & Connolly 2005). Creating authentic areas will help them live like they used to live. The example of Brick Lane demonstrated that Asian migrants are able and willing to integrate themselves into the British society as long as they have a free opportunity to maintain their cultural identity (Aftab, Hanson, & Vaughan 2005). Thus, the city’s economy and culture will only gain from greater development of ethnic tourism’s facilities.

Such an idea has two significant advantages: first of all, immigrants are not willing to be paid as much as Londoners; and secondly, they are eager to show their unique culture to the world, make people interested in their home country; moreover, they will do their best to make the area, where they live, look like their home country, thus it will become an authentic area. On the other hand, they have their own reasons to have their own territory in the big city. First of all, it will not hurt so much to be so far away from home; on the other hand, making an authentic territory and living there will help them attract tourists not only to that very area, but also to their home country, which will increase the country`s budget. Thus this type of tourism will increase not only the economy of the United Kingdom, but also the economy of the represented country. The more countries are represented, the higher is the income to their budget and to the budget of the country, which will increase the level of economy and make the business relations stronger and more secure.


This field report has aimed to outline the core features of ethnic tourism and to present some survey results on the feasibility of its use as a major tourist attraction. First, it is reasonable to mention that the research studies on ethnic tourism are few and far between, leading to further complications in addressing this subject. Further, London is more commonly known as the city catering to the tastes of the visitors of both historical buildings that refer to the legacy of British culture and the modern cultural achievements of the United Kingdom. On the other hand, ethnic tourism may become very popular in London because there are many authentic areas here; the most popular of those are Chinatown and Brick Lane.

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In addition to the theoretical research, the practical part became significant for the research, because thoughts and expectations of representatives of all ages and social status were mentioned. According to them, a tourism manager will be able to design a route and, perhaps, not only one, but special routes for every social or age group. The interview shows that people of all ages are willing to get acquainted with new cultures and countries, which is the main aim of the ethnic tourism. Besides, some of them expressed their opinion that such kind of tourism may help to make the world more peaceful. They think that wars are started because of the misunderstandings between the representatives of different cultures, and if a person visits some authentic area in the heart of London, he or she will not condemn other cultures for being different.

Such answers may become a good advertisement for the ethnic tourism. Besides, the authentic areas may be built in one district; in London it may be either the East End or the Soho, mainly because they are not so densely inhabited. On the other hand, it will be more convenient for tourists who do not have much time, or for businessmen, to visit some different areas in one district. Besides, transport communication between the most important and popular places of interest and authentic territories will be improved.

As this research demonstrates, ethnic tourism may become rather popular in the future, but only if it is to be supported by the government and developed by the national authorities and tourism companies. From the example of London, one may see that ethnic tourism is possible even in such a large and ancient city with long history. London has become the second home for all those Chinese and Bangladeshi people living now in Chinatown and Brick Lane Street. It may also become the second home for Indians, Georgians, Africans, and other authentic cultures’ representatives. It may become real only if the development of ethnic tourism will continue.

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