Dark tourism (also black tourism or grief tourism) has been defined as tourism involving travel to places historically associated with death and tragedy. More recently, it was suggested that the concept should also include reasons tourists visit that site, since the site’s attributes alone may not make a visitor a “dark tourist”. Thanatourism, derived from the ancient Greek word thanatos for the personification of death, refers more specifically to peaceful death; it is used in fewer contexts than the terms dark tourism and grief tourism. The main attraction to dark locations is their historical value rather than their associations with death and suffering.
Study of dark tourism
The study of the subject of dark tourism focuses on travels or pilgrimages to places characterized in past and present by death and violence.
Dark tourism and thanatourism, and also death-focus travel (Collins-Kreiner, 2016), black spot tourism (Rojek 1993) and difficult heritage tourism (Knudsen 2011) are other concepts used for this purpose. Despite their dark sound, it is about scientifically used terms that are in a development in which they have to be further coined. They do not directly have anything to do with the pejorative qualification ‘ disaster tourism ‘.
The study of the subject is relatively young, although people in various religious traditions have been visiting places since antiquity that are strongly related to death and violence. The term Dark tourism is used for the first time in 1996 by Lennon and Foley, two researchers from Scottish Glasgow Caledonian University. The term ‘thanatourism’ is used in the same year by AV Seaton, Professor of Tourism Marketing at the University of Strathclyde Glasgow.
Meanwhile, there are countless studies on definitions, subcategories, such as Holocaust tourism, slavery heritage tourism, etcetera, and the term is also used in travel literature. Relatively little empirical research has been conducted into the perspective of the thanat tourist himself. The Argentinian Maximiliano E. Korstanje observes that dark tourism is often associated with ethnocentric or exclusively national colored motifs. Kang, Scott, Lee & Ballantyne (2012) conclude in their research that visitors to a peace park in Korea afterwards proved especially strengthened by ‘a sense of obligation and responsibility’.
Field of study
While there is a long tradition of people visiting recent and ancient settings of death, such as travel to gladiator games in the Roman colosseum, attending public executions by decapitation, and visiting the catacombs, this practice has been studied academically only relatively recently. Travel writers were the first to describe their tourism to deadly places. P.J. O’Rourke called his travel to Warsaw, Managua, and Belfast in 1988 ‘holidays in hell’, or Chris Rojek talking about ‘black-spot’ tourism in 1993 or the ‘milking the macabre’.
Academic attention to the subject originated in Glasgow, Scotland: The term ‘dark tourism’ was coined in 1996 by Lennon and Foley, two faculty members of the Department of Hospitality, Tourism & Leisure Management at Glasgow Caledonian University, and the term ‘thanatourism’ was first mentioned by A.V. Seaton in 1996, then Professor of Tourism Marketing at the University of Strathclyde.
As of 2014, there have been many studies on definitions, labels, and subcategorizations, such as Holocaust tourism and slavery-heritage tourism, and the term continues to be molded outside academia by authors of travel literature. There is very little empirical research on the perspective of the dark tourist. Dark tourism has been formally studied from three main perspectives by a variety of different disciplines:
Hospitality and tourism
Scholars in this interdisciplinary field have examined many different aspects. Lennon and Foley expanded their original idea in their first book, deploring that “tact and taste do not prevail over economic considerations” and that the “blame for transgressions cannot lie solely on the shoulders of the proprietors, but also upon those of the tourists, for without their demand there would be no need to supply.”
Philip Stone and Richard Sharpley from the Department of Tourism and Leisure Management of the Lancashire Business School at the University of Central Lancashire, UK have looked through the lens of the market place at dark tourism; they have coined the term ‘product of dark tourism’, and discuss its supply, demand, and consumption by the ‘dark tourist’. Stone and Sharpley have published prolifically in this area, although not conducted empirical research, and founded an Institute for Dark Tourism. In 2005 Stone suggested that “within contemporary society people regularly consume death and suffering in touristic form, seemingly in the guise of education and/or entertainment”, and sounded a call for research on “Dark Tourism Consumption” to “establish consumer behavior models that incorporate contemporary socio-cultural aspects of death and dying.” In a 2006 paper Stone discussed “the dark tourism product range”, arguing that “certain suppliers [of dark tourism] may share particular product features, perceptions and characteristics, which can then be loosely translated into various ‘shades of darkness’.” His typology of death-related tourist sites consists of seven different types, ordered from light to dark: dark fun factories, dark exhibitions, dark dungeons, dark resting places, dark shrines, dark conflict sites and dark camps of genocide.
a dark entertainment industry
dark places of the deceased (cemeteries and individual graves)
dark places of worship
dark places of armed clashes
dark places of genocide (tourism of genocide)
In 2008 Stone and Sharpley hypothesized, that coming together in places associated with grief and death in dark tourism represents immorality, so that morality may be communicated.
Psychology, Philosophy and Anthropology
Research in these areas is aimed at understanding the motivation and significance of dark tourism for tourists and developers of the program of thematic tourist places and attractions, as well as taking into account the socio-cultural environment. So Maximiliano Costane was describing the status of the sacred place of the tragedy in the night club “Republic of Cromagnon”, which took place on December 30, 2004 in Buenos Aires. He noted that just a place of memory turned into a ” sanctuary that not only resisted becoming a place of tourism, but continues to inspire deep sorrow in the public view, ” and that “a sense of community has narrowed the gap between society and officials. ” Kostanye also suggested that ” dark tourism can act as a means of resilience, helping society recover from a natural disaster or catastrophe, a form of domestication of death in a secularized world.”
The exploitation of the deceased
Whether a tourist attraction is educational or exploitative is defined by both its operators and its visitors. Tourism operators motivated by greed can “milk the macabre” or reexamine tragedies for a learning experience. Tourists consuming dark tourism products may desecrate a place and case studies are needed to probe who gains and loses.
Thana-tourism and slum-tourism have been described as re-interpreting the pastime according to the needs of financial elite.
Chris Hedges described the “Alcatraz narrative as presented by the National Park Service” as “whitewashing”, because it “…ignores the savagery and injustice of America’s system of mass incarceration”. By omitting challenging details, the park service furthers a “Disneyfication”, per Hedges.
Destinations of dark tourism include: castles and battlefields such as Culloden in Scotland and Bran Castle and Poienari Castle in Romania; former prisons such as Beaumaris Prison in Anglesey, Wales and the Jack the Ripper exhibition in the London Dungeon; sites of natural disasters or man made disasters, such as Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan, Chernobyl in Ukraine and the commercial activity at Ground Zero in New York one year after September 11, 2001. It also includes sites of human atrocities and genocide, such as the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall in China, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia; the sites of the Jeju Uprising in South Korea and the Spirit Lake Internment Camp Centre near La Ferme, Quebec as an example of Canada’s internment operations of 1914–1920.
In Bali “death and funeral rites have become commodified for tourism…, where enterprising businesses begin arranging tourist vans and sell tickets as soon as they hear someone is dying.” In the US, visitors can tour the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. “with an identity card which matches their age and gender with that of a name and photo of a real holocaust victim. Against a backdrop of video interpretation portraying killing squads in action, the pseudo holocaust victim enters a personal ID into monitors as they wander around the attraction to discover how their real-life counterpart is faring.”
Launch of Current Issues in Dark Tourism Research
In late 2017, the online journal Current Issues in Dark Tourism Research was launched. The aim of the online journal is to bring affordable ‘dark tourism’ scholarship direct to students, researchers, and the media. The journal is unique in that it pays royalty fees to authors and, as a result, is a new model for contemporary academic publishing. Authors and scholars may submit their own related research for publication in the journal. A broad range of ‘dark tourism and difficult heritage’ research will be available in the journal, in the form of articles, case studies, and commentaries. The editor of the journal is Dr Philip Stone.
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