Dark tourism: is it as dark as you think?

Travel editor Amanda Goh gives us the low down on “dark tourism”

Amanda Goh
25th February 2019
Image: Kelly Russo

Hearing the words “dark tourism” would usually make people have an impression of touring exotic, dubious and shady places.

However in this context, “dark” is meant metaphorically as “a dark chapter of history”. It means visiting places associated with disaster or death. You may not know it yet, but you might just be a dark tourist.

Dark tourism comes in many forms – from visiting mausoleums of communist leaders to volcanic destruction points. Dark tourism may not involve any deaths or whatnot but it is enough to have a “dark appeal”. This “new” definition to tourism covers a vast range of different sites. There are many different dark destinations all around the world from Ground Zero in New York to the Death Railway in Thailand.

The truth is, dark tourism has been here a long time. We just never realised it.

After the end of World War II, concentration camps were not fully torn down – they were cleaned and opened up for tours to the public. Travel writers were the first to describe their trips to deadly places. P.J. O'Rourke called his travel to Warsaw, Managua, and Belfast in 1988 'holidays in hell', or Chris Rojek talking about 'black-spot' tourism in 1993 or the 'milking the macabre'. Dark tourism used to give off the impression of having a “deeply disturbing experience” and in the early days of dark tourism, it was used as an exercise in respect for the dead and recognising how evil has overtaken good. But recently, it has taken a whole other intention – dark tourism relies on the reverse of the old equation of more familiar tourism. While going to the beach and visiting art museums may give off a happy vibe, dark tourism relies on the opposite. Well-known sites that have aspects of human tragedy gives travellers more insight on unpleasant experiences of the country in the past.

Similar to all different types of tourism, there are both positives and negatives to being a dark tourist. While touring the “dark” sites of destinations, it does give us some insight into what it was like in the past and further gives us more understanding as to what had happened, as compared to reading it in a textbook. However, some places may be just running on profit rather than anything else.

More often than not, “dark” sites are only a part of the things one would do when visiting a destination.

A dark tourist does not entirely mean only visiting “dark” sites.  But it cannot be denied that there are many people out there who are “attracted” to the “dark” and are interested in visiting these places.

You might be having second thoughts about your previous holiday destinations or questioning whether you are a dark tourist. Well, if you want to be completely sure you should try it out for yourself! You might just be a dark tourist because let’s be honest, everyone's a little dark.


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