Dark Tourism Group Essay


above: Auschwitz-Birkenau

Dark tourism, or tourism centered around historically significant death or tragedy, is a relatively new field of study though its practice goes back as long as people have travelled. Within the past few decades, debate over dark tourism has emerged over its value commercially, educationally and culturally. As a result, the contributors to the project entered into this conversation looking to delve deeper into some of these concerns. They analyzed the development of the industry over time, the impact media has on the industry, and the educational importance of various dark tourism sites. Ultimately, they arrived at different conclusions regarding the value of the dark tourism industry. While Will Blommer and Willie Halsted urge that dark tourism serves as tool of education, a method of honoring victims of tragedy, and as a medium to contemplate mortality, Audrey Vitalo and Nicholas Bowe argue that dark tourism is exploitative of tragedy and serves primarily as a source of entertainment for tourists.

Will Blommer, in an effort to analyze the evolution and significance of dark tourism, argues that dark tourism has evolved to take on the function of mortality contemplation as well as a tool for peace and prevention.  Blommer claims that early on, religious institutions provided a space to contemplate death yet as society grew more secular and death more privatized, dark tourism sites grew to fill that role. While Blommer agrees with Bowe and Vitalo that dark tourism has been increasingly affected by commercialization, he disagrees with the effect it has on the industry. Blommer claims that ultimately, dark tourism sites became more commercialized in order to effectively convey their message to a large audience. As well, dark tourism sites have grown as an instrument of education that “empower the dead to pass on their story and exert an influence on the visitors” (Blommer 5). This is similar to Halsted’s claim regarding the US Holocaust Museum functioning as a positive form of dark tourism.

Willie Halsted, in his essay “The Holocaust: An Event to Remember,” argues that the U.S. Holocaust Museum is a positive form of dark tourism because it provides a place to remember the past and educate future generations. In some cases, such as those presented by Vitalo and Bowe, dark tourism is mainly used for entertainment and profit. However, it would be incorrect to universalize this statement to every form of dark tourism, including the Holocaust Museum. The Museum holds thousands of artifacts intended to commemorate the millions of murdered Jews and force visitors to think about the moral implications of indifference versus standing up to genocide and hate. A crucial role of the Museum as an educational institute is its presentation as a historical narrative museum. The exhibits are presented in context, allowing the visitor to emotionally connect with the time period and analyze what should have been done to prevent such an atrocity. Halsted states that “ the Holocaust Museum is the model of dark tourism because it exemplifies what it means to turn a macabre historical event into an educational masterpiece” (1). He argues that upon leaving the Museum most visitors will have a strong opinion on how to prevent current and future forms of genocide rather than a sense of satisfaction that comes from being entertained.

In contrast to Blommer and Halsted, Nicholas Bowe, in his essay “The Current Flaws and Potential Benefits of Dark Tourism” explores many facets of the dark tourism industries related to the Holocaust and the Cambodian genocide and concludes that dark tourism sites are currently exploitative and lack societal value. He believes that the dark tourism industry relating to the Holocaust is the most developed and widespread in the world, yet he still sees many ways that these sites can be improved upon or altered to be more respectful and authentic. Bowe sees an opportunity for Cambodia to radically alter and ameliorate its dark tourism industry.  He says, “They can move away from their explicitly exploitive past and completely rebrand their industry” (Bowe 6). There is very much that Cambodia can learn from Holocaust memorial sites, but there is also room to improve on those sites and create a model for the dark tourism industry worldwide. Although Bowe disagrees with Blommer and Halsted by arguing that dark tourism currently does not have significant educational and commemorative influence in any instances, he recognizes that it is possible to create dark tourism that is beneficial to society by focusing on the culture and lives of victims.

Like Bowe, Audrey Vitalo’s article, “Dark Tourism and Media”, concludes that dark tourism has become a source of entertainment rather than of education, although unlike Bowe, Vitalo comes to this conclusion by looking through the lens of media. Its primary focus is the film, Titanic, although it also explores photojournalism and literature. Vitalo argues that due to media’s goal of attracting the attention of the largest number of people, it unintentionally creates an air of entertainment that surrounds the dark tourism industry. Here she differs from Bowe, in that he argues dark tourism is designed with the intention to entertain. Vitalo goes on to describe that the atmosphere of entertainment generated from media then translates to the sites themselves which causes people to visit in search of entertainment rather than education and respect, with film being the most detrimental. Vitalo’s final argument is that “the popularity of media works to shape which sites society deems more important than others,” (Vitalo 2), which, combined with media’s purpose to entertain, unintentionally turn revered sites of death into entertaining tourist traps.

Since dark tourism is such a new field of study, there is a wealth of topics to be explored, and the conversation is still very open. As a result, in their independent research the authors came to very different conclusions. Although the four contributors analyzed very different aspects of dark tourism, they all led back to evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of dark tourism, which resulted in disagreement among the authors. Since there are so many forms of dark tourism throughout the world, it is difficult to assess the entire industry and make sweeping conclusions. Regarding the future, there is still much to be added to the conversation of dark tourism as it becomes more defined and scrutinized. As research into dark tourism continues and the industry itself develops, we welcome other scholars who can elaborate and build on the foundations of our work.


Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *