What is Dark Tourism?

Dark tourism involves going to places associated with death and tragedy, like former prisons, sites of natural disaster, or Walmart on Black Friday.

It’s not a new thing – gladiator games in ancient Rome, public executions, etc. – but the term “dark tourism” was coined only in 1996 by two people at Glasgow Caledonian University. Presumably those people were trying to work out why anyone would voluntarily visit Glasgow.

A food tour of Glasgow could be considered dark tourism. This is deep fried pizza.

There’s a moral/ethical issue around dark tourism that doesn’t exist with regular tourism. If you’re a company operating tours to the Great Wall of China or Machu Picchu, you’d charge a fee and make as much profit as possible like the good capitalist business you are. But imagine you’re on a tour of Auschwitz and there’s a gift shop selling “I ❤ Jews” fridge magnets for $10 each. You might as well have someone dressed up as Hitler and charge people $2 to take a photo with him.

Lots of companies specializing in dark tourism do charge fees, of course, but for the most part, these companies give a significant chunk of their profits to memorial foundations or relief efforts, which is great. The dark tourism sites I’ve been to haven’t been over-glamorized. They’ve been sombre in tone, educational, with mentions of how we could prevent something similar happening again.

But what about the people that partake in dark tourism? Me for one. I went to Chernobyl and had a blast (poor choice of word, sorry). I went because I wanted to learn about what happened. I went, I won’t lie, because it’s cool to say you’ve been. I went because I’m a highly disturbed individual who likes to hear about horrific events of history in as much detail as possible. People go to Auschwitz to pay respects to relatives and loved ones. Other people might go to old battlefields with metal detectors. Some people might do a tour following the footsteps of a serial killer to get their own ideas for serial killing.

Tasteless selfies aside, if someone wants to do something dark tourism related, they shouldn’t be judged for that. The moral obligation lies with the businesses. These businesses should be respectful and donate some money towards related charities/memorial funds. So if you do want to visit sites of nuclear catastrophe (which I highly recommend!), please research beforehand and make sure your money is going somewhere honorable.


For more information about dark tourism, here’s the Wikipedia page.

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