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)