Genocide visit or murder tour? 'Dark tourism' hits the mainstream
Some tourists go for a cheesy picture next to the Pyramid of Skulls at Phnom Penh's Killing Fields. Others opt for a tour of Kigali's genocide war memorials. Or, students of the macabre can join a walking tour following the footsteps of US serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.
Dark tourism, a lucrative travel industry offshoot catering for a desire to visit sites of mass murder, atrocity and destruction, has now been recognised with an institute devoted to its academic study.
Morgue tours became the fashion in Victorian times, and there are plenty of similar attractions today. But Dr Philip Stone, co-founder of the Institute for Dark Tourism Research, which launches with a symposium today at the University of Central Lancashire, says there is more to "thanatourism" than a ghoulish desire to gawp at tragedies.
"The institute aims to provide an ethical framework to look at the packaging and commodification of death," he said. "People can dismiss the act of visiting sites of death and disaster as voyeuristic and macabre. But what are the consequences of people visiting these sites?" Dr Stone believes studying "dark tourism" will help the appropriate development and management of such sites and attractions.
The institute defines "dark tourism" as the "act of travel to sites, attractions and exhibitions of death, disaster or the seemingly macabre."
In Cambodia, the surviving remnants of the Khmer Rouge regime encourage visitors to buy trinkets after visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum, where a display of skulls commemorates the 14,000 victims of Pol Pot's regime who died at the former torture camp.
However, at the Dahmer attraction – which was condemned by the families of the Milwaukee killer's victims – visitors are also taken on a walking tour of the bars where the killer, who mutilated and cannibalised many of his 17 victims, picked up his young prey.
The institute includes the 1.5 million people who annually visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial in Poland, and those who pay their respects at Ground Zero whilst visiting New York, as "dark tourists".
Professor John Lennon, director of the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Business Development in Glasgow, who coined the phrase "dark tourism" in a 1996 paper, believes these dark tourists like to imagine how they might have reacted facing such a disaster.
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
Hashima: Among the ruins on Japan's Battleship Island, the place that time forgot
South Africa's new travel rules: From October, families with under-18s will need to show their birth certificates
The best streets in Britain: where to stay
Harder, better, faster, longer: The best rollercoasters in the world
The 50 Best weekend retreats
- 1 Al Pacino on suffering from depression: 'It can last and it's terrifying'
- 2 Half of young women unable to ‘locate vagina’ and 65% find it difficult to say the word
- 3 Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb
- 4 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 5 Mexican woman becomes world’s 'oldest person' at 127
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
Ashya King: 'Cruel NHS has not given us the treatment we need', says father of five-year-old with brain tumour who fled to Spain
£20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...
£15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...
£30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...
£30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...