Romany communities invite tourists to change their perceptions by sharing their way of life at Hotel Gelem.
Romany is the collective term for an ethnic group originating from the northern regions of the Indian subcontinent, a group who traditionally live a nomadic lifestyle. The population of Roma people across Europe totals at roughly 9.8 million. However, the group has suffered consistent social exclusion and even persecution in Europe since the late 19th century. Hotel Gelem is a project which uses tourism as a tool to raise awareness and overcome racial tensions.
Hotel Gelem invites visitors to stay in Romany communities. The name Gelem means ‘I went on long roads’ and is taken from the Romany hymn which grew out of their persecution during the Second World War. So called ‘Embedded Tourists’ can apply via the website to stay in Romany homes in locations in France, Germany, Macedonia and Kosovo. There are no fixed prices and guests experience first hand the poor conditions their hosts endure as a way of life: a life in which sleep, food, clothing and hygiene are often determined by poor infrastructure and lack of facilities. Guest might stay in derelict cottages, old trailers, under caves or simply the sky, in communities which often have no sanitary facilities.
The project claims to challenge tourism as “consumption of the exotic” in the belief that a guest’s close observation and first hand experience will prompt them to look differently at Romany communities. In a similar vein, Hotel Magda> in Vienna provides housing and employment for young refugees who mix with hotel guests to show the individuals behind the faceless statistics. Earlier this year, we covered a mobile Design Museum in Dharavi which showcases local makers and artists from the Mumbai slum district and helps them connect with possible clients. How else can the internet be used to foster understanding and make the talents and culture of the poorest communities more visible to the wider world?