Dark tourism attractions – why do we visit them?

Dark Tourism is tourism involving travel to sites associated with death and tragedy.

I find dark tourism very interesting and a fascinating subject. Why do people want to travel to places where horrible things have happened? Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, Killing Fields in Cambodia and 9/11 memorial site in New York are just some examples of sites where horrifying events have taken place in the past and tourists visit these places daily.

Auschwitz-Birkenau – “The Death Camp” (Poland)

But back to the question – why? Personally, I’m not sure. I have visited some dark tourism attractions, such as Auschwitz I and II (Birkenau) in Poland. I think I wanted to visit them that I could see the places with my own eyes. After visiting the concentration camps I felt angry for days. Many questions popped in my mind and we talked about the visit with Markus a lot. How something that awful could have happened?

Titta Niemelä writes in her thesis, that “a visit to a dark attraction raises stimulation by providing often educational and strongly emotional aspects.”. I think that gives some clue, why people visit dark tourism sites.

Victims’ skulls in Killing Fields (Cambodia)

I think that preserving these sites is important. We should not forget what has happened to prevent it from happening again – “one who doesn’t remember history is bound to live through it again” (George Santayana). Visiting dark tourism attractions may make you feel sad and angry for days but the sites also teach us a lot about history. Even though awful things have happened it is important to remember, to honour the victims.

On the other hand it seems awful that someone is making money out of a terrible tragedy. Tourist masses visiting countries on an arranged bus tour to see people that have just felt the power of mother earth and lost everything they had. Taking photos of people living out of a cardboard box and showing them to friends and relatives back home is definitely not the thing to do. I think everyone should reconsider their motives before travelling to a disaster site. This kind of tourism is called disaster tourism, which in my opinion should be avoided, unless you are going there to help, volunteer or something.

Auschwitz I (Poland)

I still have to go back to the Auschwitz. When I was visiting the place, I couldn’t understand how some people could pose in front of the sadly famous gate (Arbeit macht frei – Work makes you free) smiling. Same applied to the holocaust memorial site in Berlin. People jumping in top of the grey blocks and taking funny photos: For me it was unacceptable. I’m not saying, that we shouldn’t show any emotions, but taking a selfie smiling in front of a concentration camp just doesn’t seem right to me. Visitors should understand the events that have taken place in the past, take them seriously and respect the victims.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (Cambodia)

But as said earlier, if we don’t let tourists to visit dark tourism sites it might lead to silence and ignoring of the places and events. We don’t want to forget, even though we might forgive.

Dark Tourism is a recognisable field of academic study and The Institute for Dark Tourism Research based at the University of Central Lancashire (in UK) is a world-leading academic centre for dark tourism scholarship, research and teaching.

What are your thoughts on Dark Tourism? Is visiting the dark attractions appropriate?



Interesting reading about Dark Tourism:

Motivation Factors in Dark Tourism (Titta Niemelä’s Thesis)

Dark Tourism: Why are we attracted to tragedy and death? (Article in Telegraph)

Can dark tourism ever be a good thing? (Article in New Internationalist)

(Photos from Cambodia taken by my partner Markus)

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6 thoughts on “Dark tourism attractions – why do we visit them?

  1. Anastasia says:

    I think it’s good people visit places like this because history can’t be forgotten. I think it’s the best way to really for getting people out of that pink bubble. People forget and many times history ends up repeating itself.

    I think I really would never want to visit Auschwitz or Chernobyl, I’ve read too much and they would make me very sick.

    • Anne says:

      Not everyone wants to visit these sites but I think that not everyone even needs. The most important thing is just to know that this kind of places have existed.

  2. pkettunen says:

    Reading about the death camps is enough to affect me, going to visit there might be too much of an experience.
    I think old cemeteries are quite attractive, though. Also I would like to visit in Chapel of All Saints in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic. It is decorated with the bones of up to 40000 people.

  3. Hey Anne, if you’re still interested in dark tourism and urban exploration, I recommend “the Bohemian Blog” by Darmon Richter.

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