The more pressing question around dark tourism is who reaps the economic rewards of the millions of tourists who happily part with their cash?
There are few things more exciting than packing your bags, jumping in a taxi and heading off to the airport to start your next holiday or travelling adventure. But, what if that destination happens to be the location of death or tragedy? From Ground Zero in New York to the Killing Fields in Cambodia, these sites of incomprehensible horror have now become regularly frequented in a practice which has become known as ‘dark tourism.’
The human race has long as a fascination with the macabre which might well explain this interest in dark tourism. However, there is growing discussion around the ethics of the practice. Though it must be noted, visiting these kinds of sites is not new. It’s a well-known fact that swathes of tourists visited the fields of the Battle of Gettysburg before the embers had even cooled and the bodies cleared away.
The problem now seems to be a significant minority of people who deem it appropriate to take selfies at Auschwitz or stream a live blog from Hiroshima Memorial Park. Much of the discussion around dark tourism suggests that visiting these sites for the right reasons, such as education or enlightenment, is morally acceptable, while those looking to indulge themselves or post about their visit on social media are not. This might be an admirable approach, if impossible to implement. I have visited numerous sites of dark tourism and they have been viscerally emotional, informative and changed the way I think about certain localities and the wider world.
The more pressing question around dark tourism is who reaps the economic rewards of the millions of tourists who happily part with their cash? While many of these sites are free to visit, and others organised to ensure the money to go back to those affected by the tragedy in question, some are out to make a quick dollar at the expense of those who died.
There are certain aspects of dark tourism which evidently cross a line – one notable example is visits to the Golan Heights with the hope of seeing violence. In fact, some tour operators have cornered a market is taking people to active war zones. This seems at best idiotic and at its worst an example of dignity-robbing voyeurism.
These extreme examples aside, provided that dark tourism is executed in a safe and respectful manner there is no reason it cannot prevail as a moving and informative way to experience history first hand.