It has been called dark tourism, grief tourism, and black tourism. It is the touristic phenomenon driven by a morbid fascination with tragedy. Dark tourism is the act of visiting historical landmarks of suffering. Natural disasters, assassinations, conflict sites, and anything related to death, really. These places are simultaneously macabre reminders of the human condition, and lessons for the future.
Opinions on dark tourism vary. It is easy to see how there can be conflicting views about the way in which these sites are opened to people and how tourists approach them. Examples of what is considered ‘dark’ are greatly varied, and incorporates places like the catacombs of Paris, Ground Zero in New York City, the Chernobyl nuclear site, the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields, former concentration camps, and the remnants of tsunami and nuclear-affected city of Fukushima, Japan. The time periods, stories, and experiences are hugely different, but they are all united by a common theme.
Some sites are formally opened to the public as memorials and museums, whereas others still exist in their original form where visitors have to take a self-directed approach. The motivation for individuals to visit these sites ranges from interest in history, to personal or familial involvement, to wanting to feel the reality of tragedy or be confronted with their own mortality. And of course, it cannot be avoided, that there are the people that visit with insincere motivations.
Being present at sites where such significant events unfolded is poignant. It brings lessons out of history books and into your sphere of understanding. They offer the opportunity to visualise, sympathise, reflect upon, and retrace the steps of the people for which this history was reality. Not every visitor feels the same emotions, has the same motivation, or even comes down on the same side of the events portrayed, so these places aren’t always frequented by morbid ‘dark tourists’. Most people visiting these sites are regular people and travellers with a willingness to learn and pay respect.
READ MORE: Visiting Auschwitz Concentration Camp
Although, in discussing dark tourism, the question of what is considered to be appropriate and respectful behaviour at these emotion-heavy sites is begged. It is all too often that you see a news article about tourists behaving outrageously: selfies in the chambers of Auschwitz, laughing at Chernobyl… you get the idea. The behaviour is universally condemned, yet somehow it does still happen.
The visitors that choose to behave in disrespectful ways or come to dark sites to show off give the whole concept of ‘dark tourism’ a bad name. The issue is not really with the places themselves but with the intentions of the people visiting. If you are thinking of experiencing a place which could be classed as ‘dark’, it is important to ask yourself why you’re visiting. If you have genuine intentions, then the experience will be informative and moving, but if you aren’t sure you have the right intentions, it’ll be hard to get much out of it and you may run the risk of being insensitive.
Dark tourism not a new phenomenon, it has been happening for thousands of years, and as long as the world has disaster and conflict, there will be people emotionally touched and intellectually curious about it. Acknowledging and learning about the history that surrounds us is a real part of being a conscientious citizen of the world. Glossing over history, politics, and depth when visiting a destination, arguably creates an insensitivity in itself. So, in case you can’t tell, I am a proponent of visiting these memorials and learning about the past. Travel is not always infinity pools and night markets, the history, struggles, and memories of the places we visit should be acknowledged too. In doing so, we can learn more about what has shaped a place, its people, and our world.
What are your thoughts on Dark Tourism? Let me know below.
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