Behind the Curtain of Dark Tourism: Understanding Our Morbid Curiosity
Have you ever considered visiting a site associated with death, tragedy, or suffering as part of your travel itinerary? This may seem like an unusual question, but it is the basis of a growing trend in the tourism industry known as “dark tourism.”
Dark tourism, also known as grief tourism or thanatourism, involves visiting places that are associated with death, tragedy, or suffering. These sites can include memorials, museums, and even locations associated with crimes or disasters. While this type of tourism may seem morbid to some, others find it to be a way to connect with history, honor the dead, and learn about important events.
The roots of dark tourism can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when pilgrims would visit sites associated with martyrdom and other religious events. However, the modern concept of dark tourism gained popularity in the 1990s, with the opening of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Another example of dark tourism is visiting the former concentration camps of World War II, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland or Dachau which we toured in Germany. While these sites are deeply somber and emotional, they offer an opportunity for visitors to learn about the atrocities of the Holocaust and pay their respects to those who lost their lives.
Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, which provides a powerful and moving tribute to the victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks, could also be considered dark tourism. Other examples would be visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Ukraine, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster; the Killing Fields of Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge regime executed and buried millions of people; and the catacombs of Paris, which hold the remains of six million people.
Despite the popularity of dark tourism, it can be controversial. Some argue that it is exploitative and disrespectful to visit places associated with tragedy and death. Others believe that it is a way to honor the dead, raise awareness about important events, and promote understanding.
One of the criticisms of dark tourism is that it can be voyeuristic in nature, with visitors seeking to satisfy a morbid curiosity or to simply take pictures for social media. This can be seen in the recent trend of “disaster selfies,” where visitors take pictures of themselves in front of sites associated with tragedy, often with a smile or a peace sign.
Another criticism of dark tourism is that it can be insensitive to the feelings of those who have been directly affected by the tragedy or event. For example, some survivors of the Holocaust have spoken out against the commercialization of concentration camps and the use of them as tourist attractions.
Despite these criticisms, many argue that dark tourism can have a positive impact. It can help to educate visitors about important events in history and promote empathy and understanding. It can also help to generate revenue for local communities and promote economic development.
Regardless of your stance on dark tourism, it is important to approach these sites with respect and sensitivity. Keep in mind that they are not simply tourist attractions, but rather places that hold deep emotional significance for many people.
As you consider your next travel destination, take a moment to reflect on your motivations for visiting. Are you seeking to learn about history and honor the dead, or are you simply looking for an unusual photo opportunity? Remember that travel has the power to educate and inspire, but it is up to us to use it responsibly.