Dark tourism: mediating between the dead and the living

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2 December 2015

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Dark tourism


       In general, tourism covers several kinds of travel and a very broad destination ranges. One of the niches of tourism is what is known as Dark tourism that covers the visitation of places where tragedies or where ancient deaths in history have taken place and the institutions that deal with the human heritage (Stone, 2012). In the last decades, this type of tourism has received more attention and hence it has become very popular (stone, 2012). As Lennon and Foley (1999) states, tourism that is associated with the death sites and also tragedy places are registering a huge number of visits hence experiencing a rapid growth. Smith (1996), in her research shows that the warfare memoralia along with the allied products are probably forming the largest category of tourist attraction in the globe, in spite of the dissuasive and tragedies that have happened there( Stone, 2012). For instance, the Jailhouse in the United States has formed one of the earliest example of dark tourism in the break of the 19th century has received a lot of attention due to its novel practices and architectural innovations( Stone, 2012).

       In the meantime, visitation of the sites of death and tragedy has developed into a global phenomenon. However, the demand for the spots of dark tourism is becoming very versatile. Besides the death and tourism matters, culture interests or just the desire for entertainment are some of the other reasons why thousands of people are pilmigraging in the dark tourism sites day by day (Stone, 2006). In spite of the ever increasing number of research on this topic, the reasons why people are visiting these dark tourism sites and also identifying themselves with death matters, genocide and disaster is not clear (Foley and Lennon, 2000; sharply and Stone, 2009). Owing to the daily and rapid increase in the dark tourism niche, it is very vital for people to understand the reasons that motivate people to visit the places of genocides and disaster.

Dark Tourism definition

       As described by Foley and (Lennon, 1999), dark tourism is the type of tourism that encompasses the supply and consumption by the people who are the visitors, of real and commodities of disaster and death sites( Stone, 2012). One example of dark tourism in the in the ancient ages is the gladiatorial games of the area of the Romans or the execution during the medieval age as noted by (Stone, 2009). Boorstin (1964), shows that the first England tour which was organized and carried in the year 1838 was a trip by a train, where people had organized to go and witness the hanging of two murderers.

       (Sharply, 2005) denotes that Dark tourism is not only becoming more popular but it also varies very much in their presentation of death. Dark tourism is reaching from the jocular houses of horror in the famous places of the well know individuals to the sites of mass murder especially the Holocaust death camps. (Seaton, 1996), demonstrates a lot of attraction sites which include th Waterloo Battle fields along with the buried city of Pompeii with the latter being cited as the largest and the most famous destination for the thanatoptic travel of the Romantic period (Seaton, 1996)

       Mostly, the word Thonatourism is preferred to Dark tourism as it describes the travel to locations that are partially or wholly motivated by the actual or symbolic desire to the death encounters which is particularly and not exclusive to the violent death, to a varying degree that it is activated by the individual’s specific features of the ones that deaths is their focal objects. this shows that the main reasons for the people who visit these places are only active visiting there so as to experience the atmosphere of such places. Stone believes that thanatourism should only be defined by the motives of the consumer and also the motivation of the individuals in this kind of tourism plays a lot of roles. The other definition synched with Dark tourism is “the black spots” which are the commercial development sites of graves or the places where celebrities or famous people have been met with sudden or violent deaths (Rojek, 1993). Rojek quotes three different examples of these black spot sites; the site of the famous murder of John Kennedy murder in Dallas, Texas, the annual travel to the Californian highway where Dean James met his death in a sudden car crash and the annual candlelight vigil in the memory of the famous Presley Elvis (Stone, 2012).

       In this paper, both thanatourism and Dark tourism will be used as they got the same meaning although they are interpreted differently. Dark tourism is based on the attraction and location based while thanatourism basis on the motivational aspect. Black spots are the places associated with Dark tourism in the sense that they are the sudden and violent death sites.

Benefits of Dark tourism

       Dark tourism creates an exotic experience to the travelers for the tourists who are seeking an unusual experience apart from their everyday lives (J Khang e etal, 2012). In most instances, it creates a dull vacation concept to the people who are more open minded and they usually want to explore the world (J Khang e etal, 2012). It is a general nature of human beings also to want to have a eyewitness of the suffering of others that is formed basically from the curiosity of the mind (J Khang e etal, 2012). Also, Dak tourism is a very interesting aspect of tourism where visiting of the battlefields, cemeteries and concentration camps give one a firsthand information experience of the hardship through their own eye witness. Dark tourism is a muti-dimensional feeling that could have a deep impact in life (Daams, 2007).

       (J Khang e etal, 2012) notes, Dark tourism also generates income for the society that has or was affected by the said tragedy or disaster to rebuild itself. The tourist influx helps the local by bringing in money to them. Without these tourists coming in to witness the sites, it could be very hard for the community that is affected to rebuild itself and live to their original standards. For instance the Katrina hit places of Orleans saw the tourist figures drop by 35 percent of what was there before and hence a tourist surge would help this part rebuild itself (Dams, 2007).

       Dark tourism also provides emotional benefit not only to the tourists but also to the community where they are situated (J Khang e etal, 2012). Also dark tourism site could be used for educational purposes to educate the young generations on the cause of the tragedy and how to evade such. For instance, the Auschwitz in the country of Poland was listed in the UNESCO world heritage site in the year 1979 and it became mandatory for every school child in German to visit it during their education9Kate N.d). By raising the soberness of the past horrific events it leads cooling of our minds in our endeavors of understanding the world that we live in (Daams, 2007). Also, dark tourism helps us to notice and pay tribute to the ones who fought for the betterment of the country (Kendle, n.d)

       Dark tourism gives a positive impact both to the economy and to the emotional wellbeing of the community at hand along with the visiting tourists. It generates income to the economy, provides a new experience to the tourists and also provides emotional wellbeing of the affected residents. So the dark tourism revenues generated should be channeled to the right places so that it can help the affected people to rebuild their lives and also raise their living standards (J Khang e etal, 2012).

Examples of Dark tourism sites

The Buried village

       One of the examples of Dark tourism site is the buried village in New Zealand. This happened when mount Tarawera started to erupt in the early hours of 10th June 1886 and it is termed as one of the greatest natural disasters. It was just after the midnight when Te Wairoa people were woken by a sequence of earthquakes (Chris Ryan and Rahul Kohli, 2006). About a period of two hour after this, a huge earthquake took the center stage which was followed by a big explosion and the for the following four hours, the peaceful village was bombarded by rocks, ashes and mud. This sadistic and unanticipated eruption buried the village of Te Wairoa along with other several neighboring villages in the area with hot mud, ash and mud (Chris Ryan and Rahul Kohli, 2006). The eruption destroyed the white and pink terraces, a silicon- stained natural formation, which formed the largest New Zealand’s tourist attractions changing the landscape dramatically. It led to loss of more than 150 people, and has since been a tourist attraction which is one of the dark tourism sites as coined by Croy and Smith (Chris Ryan and Rahul Kohli, 2006).

The Jeju Massacre

       The Jeju massacre is one of the forms of the dark tourism site where more than 30, 000 people were executed by the military (J. khang et al, 2012). . A peace park was constructed and every year people go there to commemorate theor loved ones. This is termed as one of the biggest dark tourist sites in the world, for instance the 3rd April peace park case (J. khang et al, 2012).

Dark tourism Motivators

       In accordance to Smitt(1996), the war sites attract basically people with strong interests in history and also the military strategists. The people who visit these sites are always keen to analyze the past event while they walk around the scene. This is to show that the battlefield visitors are not motivated by any interest on the deaths but by the interest in the history of the battlefields. These same results were also confirmed by Crompton (1979) and also Anderson (1995), who stipulated that Historical and cultural interest could also be a motivator for travel. Crompton (1979) formed this conclusion from interviewing 44 adults that novelty and education are also travel motivators. To sum up the topic on history motivation, it can be noted that history could be the major motivating factor that drives people to visit the battlefield and disaster sites. Owing to the little research that has been carried on the tourist motivation to the disaster sites, it can be concluded based on the little research that the motive to learn more and more about history could be the main driving factor but not only or single reason why individuals visit these sites. Below are the other reasons why people visit the dark sites.


       So as to understand the reasons behind battles and deaths and what were their aftermaths, dark tourism could be very helpful in opinion forming. Also, some people needs to know why their relatives and friends had to die. Travel education was introduced into learning in the break of industrialization back in the 17th century, when educational enhancements and also infrastructure increased 9Burkart and medlik 1981). In the year 1982, the first exhibitions on dark tourism with educational components were prompted in the city of New York, USA. Presently, Dark tourism sites are implementing educational aspects ni them so as to promote themselves. The tourists also get a chance of self learning through these educational travels. There are many institutes which are offering educational tours to the war sites and also delivering information sessions, for instance the Smithsonian associates in Washington a D.C educational department which was offering a tour that was tracing the route of the murderer of president Abraham Lincoln. One of the main reasons for such tours and events is for the people to learn from the past and put mechanisms on how re-occurrence of such events could be prevented. In most of the learning places, like pearl Harbor in USA, people always believe that education could provide a more secure tomorrow. The people who visit such places are thought to know why these tragedies happened and hence they should realize that it should never happen anymore (Ryan, 2007).


       Lennon nad foley(1993) describe remembrance as an important human activity which connect people between the past and the future. They also declare that how humans remember defines us in the present. These sites are mostly constructed for remembrance and to commemorate the ones who died or the event which led to their deaths. Like for instance, there is a day in Christianity which is meant to remember all the saints that died and it is known as all saints day. It is a common practice where the Christians visit these cemeteries where loved ones were buried. It is meant also for the remembrance of the events that formed the identities of these individuals.


       People also visit these sites for indent purposes. Even if people have no direct connection to the people in these sites or event which lead them to it, they visit these sites for identity purposes. For example, people who visit the sites where famous people met their deaths, mostly they have the soul purpose of indentifying themselves with the dead character (Rojek, 1993).

       According to a research by Ashworth (2004), many tourist visit the sites of disaster or battlefields because of their curiosity. Other researchers have it that people visit the atrocity sites so as to view the macabre exhibits (Yuill, 2003) and (cooper, 2003) as (Yuill, 2003) states, the tourists or visitors who come to the atrocity sites rarely have no connection to any of the person that fought in these wars or participated in the battlefield.

The future of dark Tourism

       Owing to the fact that Dark tourism has been increasing day by day, there has been a lot of incites on the future of this kind of tourism (H. Muzaini, 2007). One of the most exploited parts is in the educational part of it. Many Universities have launched courses that are basing their information from the dark tourism. For instance, the University of Central Lancashire launched a program where they will be examining the reasons why people visit these sites, what are their motivations and also offering trips to these sites (Reed Courtney, n.d).

       Also, the business minds people are converting these sites into big hotels especially the prisons which were famous dark tourism sites are being converted into hotels and they attract a lot of tourist who want to feel the identified with these places (H. Muzaini, 2007). For instance the Oxford prison has been converted into a luxurious hotel that is attracting a lot of visitors. Most of these sites are being converted into luxurious sites (Reed Courtney, n.d).

       In addition, we have the websites that are designed for visitor’s attractions to the museums in most cases employ images and narratives of the life in prison in the ancient times and also the more punitive incarnation elements (Reed Courtney, n.d). You will see some of the writings like, “Sit in a prison cell, hear the door slam shut and imagine the harsh conditions of Victorian prison regimes. Try on prison uniforms, imagine the horror of being set in the pillory, strapped in a restraint chair or hung in chains. Turn the crank, carry out shot drill or work the treadmill” (H. Muzaini, 2007).


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