Dark tourism is the academic name given to tourist sites that commemorate and remind tourists of death, disasters and atrocities. Dark tourism focuses on the dark chapter of history and before now, dark tourist locations were limited to research papers and journals, but these days it is familiar to everyone associated with the tourism industry.
Dark tourism provides an opportunity for tourists to visit several destinations and places that are associated with death, disaster or suffering. There are numerous locations in different parts of the globe known specifically because of the term ‘dark tourism’.
These morbid destinations give a sense of thrill, a surreal feeling as well as a deeper understanding of the world by walking through the dark past. The emotional impact of these places is not rationally straightforward and there is a lot more than creating mere memories.
Various activities are carried out in these dark tourist locations, some of which involves an educational element, such as learning about a nuclear disaster or a shipwreck. Activities on these locations are associated with an authentic experience, whereby the tourist visits an actual historical site or speaks with people who were involved if alive.
As a general guide, however, here is a list of some of the behaviors demonstrated by dark tourists, which have been deemed offensive or inappropriate:
- Photographing people in moments of sorrow except when permitted
- Smiling and laughing around those experiencing hardship
- Making wrong remarks
- Wearing disrespectful clothes
- Using inappropriate language
- Talking loudly about unrelated issues
- Showing general signs of disrespect
However, some activities are permitted such as:
Aids and donations
- Get connected with human nature
- Sympathize with the dead
- Show signs of respect
- Listen to tour guides and ask questions when necessary
Major Dark tourist Locations include:
- CONCENTRATION CAMP AUSCHWITZ, POLAND
The concentration camp Auschwitz was turned into a memorial after the end of World War 2 and ever since has been deemed the very epitome of all dark tourism. Auschwitz was one of the largest German concentration camps during World War 2 as various individuals from all over Europe were deported to this labor camp.
History has it that an estimated number of 1.1 to 1.5 million people were murdered in that camp and as such, the camp is still one of the best-known dark tourism destinations in the world.
Today, it is possible to access the whole complex freely, including the insides of the “huts” in which the prisoners were kept. The most shocking and intense moments comes from observing the masses of hair and nails of the victims.
The gruesome sites conserve the reminiscence of over one million poor souls who met their tragic ends in the most pathetic way. The relics of lethal gas chambers would set your hair erect. Guided tours and well-preserved museum across this horrid site have made it a well-known Death Tourism destination. Today, the memorial site is estimated to have welcomed almost 50 million tourists over its time.
- THE TITANIC SHIPWRECK
Located nearly two and a half miles (4 km) down at the bottom of the North Atlantic lays the wreck of the well-known Titanic, otherwise known as the “mother” of all shipwrecks! This is indeed one of the greatest tragedies persisting in public perception, subject of countless books, movies, documentaries, etc.
On her maiden voyage in 1912, the reputedly “unsinkable” ship accidentally collided with an iceberg in the North Atlantic off the Newfoundland coast; the iceberg ripped the ship open leading to the sinking of the ship.
This incident records as one of the worst disasters, with amongst the largest death toll in civilian seafaring as over 1500 drowned or died from hypothermia (only some 700 survived, a mere third of all aboard).
Ever since then, no other marine catastrophe has ever attracted as much media attention over such a prolonged period of time and no other is so firmly etched into public consciousness as the wreck of the Titanic.
However, given the extreme remoteness of the site in the black depths of the ocean, tourism is not really an option; though as it is not exactly a comfortable trip either. Of course, only a handful of very wealthy and moneyed “tourists” have ever been down to the bottom of the Atlantic in special deep-sea submersibles to see the wreck with their own eyes.
This is because it requires a hi-tech expedition; therefore, unless you are a billionaire who is prepared to pay for setting up an independent expedition and the likely possibility of having to take on legal battles with the owners of the wreck, it’s almost impossible to visit the Titanic site.
However, on land, tourists can visit the Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada, because it has a special connection with the Titanic tragedy, as it was here that the stricken ship should have been towed.
Therefore, the bodies of some 200 victims found floating on the ocean were brought here and laid to rest in a couple of cemeteries in Halifax. There is also a special section about the disaster, and, like so many institutions, organized special events for the centenary year.
- CHERNOBYL, UKRAINE
This is another well-known dark tourism destination and has been regarded as one of the worst nuclear disasters in History due to a massive explosion.
Chernobyl is a very popular destination for dark tourism, however unlike Auschwitz, this destination remains a hazard and is a dangerous site to visit due to the radiation levels still pertinent.
In 1986, an explosion tore through reactor 4 of the power plant and produced the worst nuclear accident in the history of humankind. This explosion created a restricted area of 30 kilometers around the plant, where tour firms organize trips.
Though the progress of human civilization continues its forward march, this incident will continue to haunt reminding of the lapses and faults to be strictly avoided in the path of growth. Photography is permitted in this location, as many persons are interested in this location.
- KIGALI GENOCIDE, RWANDA
Rwanda, a small landlocked country in Central Africa and the location of one of the most brutal large-scale genocides took place in 1994. This dark tourist location in Rwanda has to be high up on the list of dark tourism destinations.
The Kigali Genocide, Rwanda is one of the worst ever large-scale genocides in modern history as a mass butchering of predominantly locals of the Tutsi ethnic minority by extremists of the Hutu majority. The killings lasted for about 100 days from April to July 1994.
The cause of the events is still complicated, even though the genocide certainly did not come as unexpectedly as it was mostly perceived in the outside world, esp. in the West.
This incidence in Rwanda from April 1994 matched the definition of genocide in a most clear fashion, because it was a planned, organized, nationwide termination targeting an ethnically defined section of society, a people, with the overtly stated policy of wiping them out completely.
The victims of this genocide were literally slaughtered, battered and hacked to death. Men, women and children were all attacked indiscriminately.
The Gisozi Genocide Memorial Centre is the best known and most visited individual site for tourists to see, as it is located near the centre of Rwanda’s capital Kigali, which is the principal entry point for foreign visitors and offers a few more sites of its own that are worth exploring.
- HIROSHIMA, JAPAN
Another dark tourist location is Hiroshima in Japan, which preserves the memory of the world’s first nuclear attack. An atomic bomb at Hiroshima dropped from Enola Gay, the plane back in 1945, which killed more people in one instant than any other killing in history and this city of Japan still bear the scar of atomic bombing.
The atomic bomb explosion became a stigma to the human race and yet large crowd of tourists find this Dark tourism destination a place of massive appeal as millions of tourists visit every year.
For tourists who visit the location, the site is presented in two parts revealing how the city looked like before and after the bombing.
This dark tourist location exhibits the possessions of those poor victims perished under the gargantuan impact of the atomic bomb however, this city continues to promote itself as a symbol of peace rather than that of a devastated city.
In 2016, the number of visitors reached over 12 million. Over 11 million were domestic tourists, 323,000 were students on school trips, and 1,176,000 were international visitors. Importantly, it offers a stark lesson on the importance of world peace and, in that respect, is one of the most pivotal dark tourism sites in the world.
- GROUND ZERO, NEW YORK, USA (9/11 MEMORIAL)
9/11 is arguably the most notable terrorist attack of the 21st century. The terror, which struck on 11th September, 2001 (hence the name 9/11) led to a large-scale destruction of human life and property.
This attack on the World Trade Center buildings not only caused irreparable damage to the building (on and beneath the surface), but to New York City, the US, and the world at large, which also indicated significant changes in foreign policy and focus.
Following this attach, the Ground Zero became one of the most visited sites of any kind. The world shivers at this name, this is because the air raids inflicted on world trade centre and pentagon by the terrorists is perhaps one of the worst crimes committed against humanity.
A memorial and museum have been set up pulling in a large number of dark tourists every year where people gather to recollect those horrifying moments with a silent prayer that such an incident is never repeated in the history of humankind. Within the first 2 years of the memorial opening, over 10 million visitors arrived and a couple years later the total figure rose to over 23 million.
- THE KILLING FIELDS
The Killing Fields are a collection of (more than 300) sites in Cambodia where over a million people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime.
This is a popular tourism attraction and often considered a ‘rite of passage’ when backpacking around South East Asia.
It is an educational and sorrowful site, highlighting an important time in Cambodia’s history.