Author: Politou Ekaterini University: University of Wolverhampton
This paper discusses the arguments for and against maintaining dark tourism as tourism destination in Cambodia, discussing social and commercial benefits of dark tourism for the local population. Authenticity issues are raised in terms of both the destination and the tourist.
Dark tourism, Genocide tourism, Cambodia, authenticity, tourists
How does a site of suffering and death socially and commercially benefit the local population: the case of Cambodia
People have long been drawn, purposefully or otherwise, towards sites, attractions or events linked in one way or another with death, suffering, violence or disaster (Stone 2005a; Seaton, Forthcoming). Lennon and Foley (2000) stated Dark tourism belong the visits to the parts of the world affected by catastrophes as are for instance battle fields, places of tragic events as well as places affected by genocide, for example: concentration camps. Philip R. Stone further defined catastrophic tourism as: "an act of travelling and sightseeing, visiting the landmarks connected with death, misery and nightmare". Furthermore Macmillan's definition of grief tourist: "a person who travels specifically to visit the scene of a tragedy or disaster". Perhaps some authors say that grief tourism is more about the scene, spectacle, or history while dark tourism is more about the emotions a tourist feels. Studies into dark tourism have highlighted the benefits it can bring, such as increased tourist numbers, economic, employment and marketing value and subsequent destination based branding and planning. A case example is the Genocide Tourism in Cambodia. Tourism to the genocide sites in Cambodia has had a large impact on both the visitors and the locals. Yuill, (2003) suggests that understanding visitor motivations helps the tourism developers provide the guests with what they want. Although the tourists play a large role in the growth of the areas, developers must take into consideration the opinions of the locals, the survivors and the families of the victims. Moreover, some improvements, such as infrastructure enhancement, especially when it comes to transportation, can benefit all parties. As Cambodia is still healing from the Khmer Rouge regime that terrorized the nation between 1975 and 1979, the development of tourism will pose many challenges to its developing society. The rapidly developing economy threatens the country's heritage, where the past could be more exploited than preserved. The country relies heavily on foreign aid and independent non-government organizations, which help to maintain the historical representation of Cambodia's tourism attractions (Lennon, 2009). The Cambodian government plans to develop a theme park devoted to the Khmer Rouge, to move into the growing market of macabre tourism. Hundreds of thousands of tourists already visit S-21 torture centre and museum and the killing fields at Choeung Ek. The Ministry of Tourism plans to refurbish 14 Khmer Rouge buildings in Anlong 9 Veng, which was the Communists\' last resistance after Vietnamese troops overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979. The creation of the theme park is very contentious. On one hand many people believe that this would increase the number of tourists to the region and generate more income for the economy. Tourism already accounts for one fifth of Cambodia's GDP and many of the locals want to continue to exploit this area for the purpose of tourist dollars. The minister of tourism Thong Khon, was quoted saying, \"It is right that the government should profit from remaking this historic place\" (Burmon, 2010). However, news reports suggest that the Cambodian government has done little to endow its macabre sites and they operate them with the sole mission of collecting government revenues. Many locals have been affected and have had to leave their properties to accommodate the project.
Society's curiosity with tragedy and death has led to the increasing trend in dark tourism. This trend has spiked tourism to the Khmer Rouge genocide sites of Cambodia where visitors gather to experience, mourn and learn about the genocide that killed thousands. The country's unstable past has made it difficult to develop traditional tourism. Despite this, tourists have been traveling to attractions such as Toul Sleng and Cheoung Ek since they accepted visitation in the 1980s. Future predictions suggested that dark tourism only continue growing and become even more commercialized.
Burmon, A. (2010). Cambodia tries to turn its bloody history into a sightseeing boom. The Atlantic Monthly, 306(4).
Foley, M. and Lennon, J. (1996a) Editorial: Heart of darkness. International Journal of Heritage Studies 2(4), 195-197.
Yuill, S.M. (2003). Dark tourism: understanding visitor motivation at sites of death and disaster. Informally published manuscript, Department of Science, Texas A&M University, Education City, Qatar, Texas.