'Dark tourism' study centre launched by university

Barbed wire, concentration camp Researchers will examine why tourists visits sites of terrible events, such as Nazi concentration camps

"Dark tourism" - where visitors travel to sites of death, brutality and terror - is to be the subject of a dedicated centre for academic research at the University of Central Lancashire.

The Institute for Dark Tourism Research is said to be the world's first such academic centre.

Researchers say they want to examine why people "feel compelled to visit sites like Auschwitz or Ground Zero".

Director Philip Stone says such places make people face their "own mortality".

The institute, which is being launched on Tuesday, will look at the relationship between places with terrible associations - and tourists who use their leisure time to visit them.

Disaster trips

Dr Stone says that this includes places such as the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York, Nazi concentration camps and the sites of disasters such as the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine.

He says that going to such places becomes a form of "secular pilgrimage", with people feeling they need to visit them.

Dr Stone says his research suggests that visitors want to find some kind of meaning in these places of suffering.

Start Quote

Four hundred years ago they were innocent people who were killed. Now they're a tourist destination”

End Quote Dr Philip Stone Insitute for Dark Tourism Research

Visitors try to empathise with victims and imagine the motivations of the perpetrators, he says, and then visitors have a sense of relief that they can step back into the safety of their own lives.

"People feel anxious before - and then better when they leave, glad that it's not them," says the centre's executive director.

His research has looked at people who visit such sites as part of a wider holiday, rather than people who have specifically travelled to see them.

He describes a couple who reported that they only went to the Ground Zero site at the end of a visit to New York, because going any earlier would have upset them for the rest of the holiday.

But they still clearly felt compelled to visit, he says.

Any scene of disaster or violence is going to have an uneasy relationship with tourism - in terms of how sensitively such events are presented, and how visitors are expected to behave.

But he says the "packaging" of such sites can be what people experience, rather than a recognition of the awful real-life events which are being commemorated.

There is a "blurred line between memorialisation and tourism", he says.

'Long history'

He also believes that an important part of the attraction of such grim places is to allow people to consider death, from a comfortable distance.

In a culture that usually removes death from the public domain, such different places share a common link as scenes strongly associated with the loss of life, he says.

"It's a way for a secular society to reconnect with death."

Dr Stone, who worked in the tourism industry before becoming an academic, says that there is a long history of dark tourism.

"It's always been there. You could say that a medieval execution was an early form of dark tourism."

More than 100 delegates from around the world will attend an inaugural symposium at the university.

Among the future research plans are to look at people who made trips to see the damage caused by earthquakes in Italy, and to examine the visitor industry around the Pendle Witches in Lancashire.

"Four hundred years ago they were innocent people who were killed. Now they're a tourist destination," says Dr Stone.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    I was in Berlin once on business. Wandering through the city I saw bullet-hole ridden churches, Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall. For those moment, World War 2 and the Cold War were tangible and it was impossible not to reflect on this history. A book or a film could never stir up the same feelings - you are always at arms length, the events themselves sterile and impersonal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    I believe it depends on why you go to such places in the first place. The reason I go is not because I have a morbid fascination with these places but it is to learn and remember. I feel places such as these make you remember what people are capable of and even though it can upsetting it is also a time for contemplation. It makes you remember how lucky

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    I think its more worrying that the university is claiming people are dark tourists and turning up because of death. Most people turn up to witness history and an historical event happened ,not for a fascination with death.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    theres plenty of time honoured reminders of these awful places without having to go out of your way to pay to actually see them, of course they should be remembered but more for the ppl that suffered within thier confines,'black tourism'?,we all like to be frightend from time to time 'its just another money spinner in a long line of many.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    At first I thought 'I can't imagine visiting the sight of a disaster or place of suffering as a tourist'. Then I realised that I have visited the Anne Frank Haus twice, as well as Pompeii and the Colosseum.
    I think Auschwitz is very important in reminding people but I don't think I could deal with it. I've been to NY twice but not been tempted by Ground Zero, irrationally, that feels morbid.


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