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Are Dark tourist attractions, which have originated from disasters, a negative or positive part of the tourism industry?

Are Dark tourist attractions, which have originated from disasters, a negative or positive part of the tourism industry?
Author: Michelle Burge
1 Commentries
There are certain aspects of the tourism industry which can be seen as negative. In particular, dark and disaster tourism.

Dark tourism is the visiting of an attraction which has been created from events related to death and disaster.

Disasters can occur in many forms. Some of the most common being:

• Volcanic eruptions such as Pompeii, in Naples, Italy. The pyroclastic flow killed thousands of people in the two cities below. Pompeii displays the mummified remains of these victims.

• Terrorism: Ground Zero is a dark attraction in New York. It is the sight of the two Twin Towers, destroyed in 2001.

• War memorials such as those on Normandy's coast in France, in rememberance of soldiers killed in battle during the first and second world wars.

• Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans caused death and destruction for the city. Like Pompeii, this was a natural disaster.

Often, a dark tourist attraction is not at the sight of disaster. A Titanic exhibition, for example was displayed at Manchester's Science and Industry museum.

There are mixed opinions on whether dark attractions are a positive or negative element, within the tourism industry, and in particular, whether they are ethical.

One concern is the state of a destination, after a disaster has occurred. Tourism can often hinder the regeneration of an area, because of higher demand on transport and accomodation, whilst trying to recover from the destruction. In some cases, such as the 2004 Tsunami in Indonesia, the tourism industry comes to a halt, because fear of a re-occurrence of a disaster disuades people from visiting.

It is not only the residents of a country that are affected, but also relatives of the victims.

There is a knock-on effect after a crisis:

People are unable to work, tourism-related businesses are unable to open, and the the lack of tourists, all put the economy in danger of decline.

Dark and disaster tourism are at the darkest end of Stone's 'Dark tourism spectrum', (2006) because they are 'sites of death and destruction'.
There are many reasons for tourists wanting to visit dark attractions:

• Curiousity and the experiencing of the unknown.
• Giving aid: As in the case of Hurricane Katrina, where many were travelling to help the victims and to rebuild after devastation had occurred.
• Entertainment and the desire of 'thrill-seeking'. In the same way that a film creates excitement, and the viewer wanting to put themselves into the situation, many dark attractions create the atmosphere, in which a tourist can experience that 'thrill'.
• In order to pay respects to victims, or for many, the rememberance of a loved one.

'Shadenfreude', is a German word, meaning 'Pleasure derived from the misery of others.

It is the Allocentric tourist, who travels for adventure purposes. The 'thrill' gained from visiting sites of death and disaster can be seen in the way that a person derives a thrill from a theme park ride.

It could be suggested that the tourism industry takes advantage of these sites of disaster. As an example of this, a station has been built at Ground Zero, to provide easier access for the abundance or visitors it recieves. Effective transport is a key factor throughout the tourism industry. Likewise the selling of souvenirs and the advertisments of nearby hotels, suggest that the appeal of more money is taking over the ethnicity of dark tourist attractions. People working for themselves within the tourism industry, can use the popularity of an attraction to boost their own income.

Morro Castle, (The wreckage of a ship that was destroyed by a fire in the early 20th century), can be used as an example, where the media, selling of souvenirs and the idea of tourguides is being used to promote a past event that killed 180 people (The Times 1934).

Suitability is the most important issue. It is a question of, how soon is too soon?

An attraction based on an event from a long time ago, is more widely accepted than a site such as Ground Zero, where the relatives of victims are still alive, and tourists world-wide remember 9/11 as if it were yesterday. On the other hand however, it would be difficult to keep Ground Zero as a site of rememberance, because so many people want to see it.

The fact remains that, disasters and dark tourism attractions in relation to them are at the darkest end of spectrum. It is a battle between the ethics in gaining pleasure from the misery and suffering of others, and the need to regenerate a destination, in the aftermath of a disaster.
Not totally negative?!
Author: Dana Kinzel
When I read your headline I was for sure that I would answer the question that it is negative, similar to your opinion, but throughout the work and some research I started to differentiate and my view changed slightly. Some literature information and a list of your references at the end would have been helpful.

Tourism is associated with relaxation and peace which becomes destructed through incidents (Araña and León 2007:299-315). In general the examples you mentioned like terrorism, crime, political instability, natural disasters and other negative incidents influence the tourism industry in a negative way and is linked to a decrease of the travel figures (Gray and Wilson 2009: 187). But dark or thana tourism even lives from these incidents.

You mentioned that dark tourist attractions are often not at the place of happening like the Titanic exhibition in Manchester. The maybe most important place connected to the incident in 1912 is "The Southampton Titanic Trail" which leads through the city from which the ship had left and brings the visitors to several places of interest. Not all negative events have a specific place at which they have taken place but a major location is often associated.

You explained Stone's 'Dark tourism spectrum'. I asked myself if these are the only reasons which can be named in connection with dark tourism. Should the interest in history and the educational background not be mentioned separately?

I agree with you that selling souvenirs, extensive advertising, offering guided tours to make profit is debatable and I do not want to support it. But in this case it depends certainly on the occurrences, place and time. In London you can find several provider of Jack the Ripper tours, is it not debatable because it happened a long time ago? The providers of these tours want to make profit out of it as well. But I do not see anything crucial about a station at Ground Zero. It is just 10 years ago but it is a place for everyone to remember the day, the victims, their relatives which were left behind and all the people who lost their lives trough the consequences. Looking at the example of Morro Castle the memorial can be seen as a place to remember but also demonstrates a change in the maritime law (Webster C. 2009). Relatives and visitors want a place to which they can come to remember and they shall have the possibility to do so. People will always try to find a way to the place of occurrence otherwise and maybe damage it and the people involved in some way through their action.

Altogether I want to say it is indeed a disputable topic. Tourists should visit these places not because of curiosity and entertainment in general but some do. Destinations should react carefully after a disaster. Memorials and places people can go to and share their sympathy are not having anything negative but the way the promotion is made, the selling of souvenirs and maybe also some organised tours should be well thought through.


Araña, J. E. and León, C. J. (2007) The Impact of terrorism on tourism demand, in: Annals of Tourism Research. 35: 2, 299-315.

Gray, J. M. and Wilson, M. A. (2009) The Relative Risk Perception of Travel Hazards, in: Environment and Behaviour. London: Sage Publications, 41, 185-202.

Webster, C. (2009) Monument unveiled in Asbury Park to Morro Castle victims, Retrieved 01, May 2010 from http://www.app.com/article/20090908/NEWS/90908177/Monument-unveiled-in-Asbury-Park-to-Morro-Castle-victims.