The growing quandary of dark tourism

In the mid ’90s, British scholars John Lennon and Malcolm Foley first coined the term “Dark Tourism.” The duo went on to write a book titled Dark Tourism: The Attraction of Death and Disaster, which was published in 2000. A dozen years later, the University of Central Lancashire, located in Northern England, launched the Institute for Dark Tourism Research, a first-of-its-kind academic center headed by Philip Stone, who has a doctorate in Thanatology (the study of death) and previously worked in the tourism industry. Last year on Halloween, The Guardian published an article exploring the growing trend of people visiting murder sites and places of past horror. The piece mentions a new tour in the home of 1980s California serial killer Dorothea Puente, who buried her victims in her yard, both front and back. “It’s the commercialization of death,” Stone is quoted as saying regarding the budding phenomenon. “Take the Flight 93 crash site,” he continues. “Soon after it happened farmers were selling tours of the field. But now there’s an established memorial. There’s been a process of commercialization from that initial demand to becoming a formal destination.”…

If you have the money, it’s never been easier to book a few days off, fly to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Rwanda, contemplate the precariousness of life, and then return home to settle back into the daily grind. And, in a sense, this is exactly what the government of Rwanda wants — foreigners coming to their country to commemorate the slaughter of somewhere between 800,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus over the course of three months while simultaneously spending money on hotels, restaurants, souvenirs, and perhaps a guided tour of the nearby mountain gorillas. If each visit benefits the people who still suffer from the events that led to the creation of a new museum or landmark, that’s probably good. But if the proceeds go into the coffers of a corrupt government or uncaring company simply there to make a buck, that’s probably not so good.

According to a recent article at The Atlantic, dark tourism is on the rise. There are now established locations near the Syrian-Israeli border where visitors gather to glimpse a piece of the action, not unlike the aforementioned sightseers during the American Civil War.