My blog has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The rise in Grief Tourism or Dark Tourism

Is it real, imagined or constructed? Recent years have seen a rise in grief tourism, dark tourism and disaster tourism, according to media reports. But I wonder if this has any actual foundation, whether the increase is real or whether it's a case of more media reporting, arising from more academic analysis on the phenomena? It would be interesting to see a comparative study on how tourist numbers at specific sites have changed in recent years. The media, as much as the travel industry, values novelty - indeed, the industry is in the business of manufacturing and commodifying novelty, of creating new tourist products that inspire people to travel to their destination - so is it simply a case of old practices being renamed so that they appear new?

Regardless of whether there has been an actual increase in these touristic practices, or simply an increase in coverage of them, I find the phenomena intriguing. Essentially,
grief tourism is travel to a place to remember, commemorate and mourn a significant loss of life, such as visits to cemeteries, war memorials and sites of murders. It's a sub-category of dark tourism, which involves travel to places associated with death, tragedy and atrocities, such as battlefields like Gallipoli (which I've been posting about recently), mass graves such as the Killing Fields, and concentration camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau. But that visit doesn't necessarily involve mourning or grief, but may be more about education - developing an awareness and understanding of the tragedy, and attempting to better empathize with the suffering - and also entertainment. And then there's disaster tourism, which involves visits to sites of mass destruction such as New York's 'Ground Zero', Hiroshima and Chernobyl, and places where natural catastrophes occurred, such as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the 2004 tsunami in South-East Asia, and Cyclone Tracey in Darwin. The terms have long been in use - the Germans' use 'Gruseltourismus' or shudder tourism, which I like. So while the discussion of these phenomena might have travelled from academia to the media and to the blogosophere (see the Dark Tourism series on Vagabondish for instance), has there actually been a rise in the practices themselves in recent years? What do you think? And if so, what does this say about tourism and about ourselves as travellers?


Travel Muse said...

I don't believe this is a new phenonmena. I toured German war sites when I was a teenager, include Dachau. I think the media is making it easier for us to identify the sites (i.e. World Trade Center), and we're simply getting there faster. I was in Atlanta recently and the literature encouraged a visit to Centennial Park the site of the Olympic bombing. Have to say I didn't consider that a draw.

marina villatoro said...

You know, I think there is definitely a rise in this gory type of tourism. Being Jewish, I've been to quite a few holocaust memorials in the States, Israel and other places. They are always crowded. And to be honest with you, I can only stomach so much, but it feels like some people are there for the voyeuristic effects, as sick as that is. Like, check it out, or thank god it's not me, or like in the Roman times to go see the Gladiators being ripped to shreds.

It's in our human natures to see misery. I might be taking this out of proportion, because I know many go to remember and see that it never happens again as well. But, many don't!

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Travel Muse

You're right. It is definitely not new. A UK scholar, John Lennon, who wrote a book on Dark Tourism, wrote that the nobility observed the 1815 Battle of Waterloo from a safe distance, and that one of the American Civil War sites (Manassas) was sold the very next day as a tourist attraction. This is the link to a piece he wrote for The Observer:

Google him, and you'll find some research papers.

I think these forms began to be seriously analyzed by academics in the 90s when a rise in interest in this kind of tourism was observed. Lennon wrote in that 2005 piece that half a million people visited Auschwitz each year. But I don't know if anyone has studied visitor numbers to these kinds of sites and observed a real increase, or whether as you say, the media coverage has simply raised awareness. I certainly come into contact with more people than I ever did before who are touring battle sites and war memorials - and young people, not just older people. That's what I find fascinating.

Your Atlanta bombing site example is interesting. I have a lot of contact with tourist offices when we're doing our guidebook research and I'm constantly amazed at the kinds of places they market and try to encourage people to go to - sometimes it seems like they're grasping at straws.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Marina

I completely relate to what you're saying. I agree with you that there's a certain amount of morbid curiosity and voyeurism and sheer entertainment value on the part of some tourists to these sites.

However, in terms of the holocaust experience, I think there's also a bit of the Bali-Gallipoli thing going on which I blogged about last week to do with a reinforcement of national identity, with young Israelis in particular who I have seen acting just as badly as the Aussies at Gallipoli.

I didn't let it ruin my experience of Auschwitz (which was poignant and transformational), but I was appalled by the behaviour of a large group of young flag-waving & -wearing Israeli students there. Actually, I might post on that - thanks for the inspiration! - and make it my last on the topic. I've been so dark this week!