After reading ‘The Dark Tourist‘ by Dom Joly, as he ventured to sightsee the world’s most unlikely destinations, I decided to find out more about this bizarre and unorthodox travel trend.

According to Wikipedia, Dark Tourism (also referred to as black tourism or grief tourism) has been defined as “tourism involving travel to places historically associated with death and tragedy. More recently, it was suggested that the concept should also include reasons tourists visit that site, since the site’s attributes alone may not make a visitor a “dark tourist”. The main attraction to dark locations is their historical value rather than their associations with death and suffering.”

Ground Zero, New York, USA

The term ‘dark tourism’ was first coined in 1996 by Dr. John Lennon and Professor Malcolm Foley, two faculty members of the Department of Hospitality, Tourism & Leisure Management at Glasgow Caledonian University, as they published an academic paper in 2000 called Dark Tourism: The Attraction of Death and Disaster.

“Dark (or ‘tragic’) tourism was defined as the presentation and consumption (by visitors) of real and commodified death and disaster sites” Lennon & Foley

Similarly, the term ‘thanatourism’ (or grief tourism) was first mentioned by A. V. Seaton in 1996, then Professor of Tourism Marketing at the University of Strathclyde.

Needless to say, there has been an increasing amount of academic and ethical debate since the original papers were released, challenging the very definition as well as other aspects related to dark tourism.

Pompeii, Italy

According to Dom Joly on the Epilogue section of his book, the definition by academic Philip Stone of Dark Tourism:

“Dark Tourism is the act of travel, whether intentional or otherwise, to sites of death, destruction or the seemingly macabre”

Genocide Memorial, Rwanda

This applied to some of the sites visited by Dom Joly such as Cambodia, US assassination sites and Chernobyl, whilst others were about experiencing life under ‘dark’ regimes (such as North Korea and Iran) whilst Lebanon was chosen as the author lived there during ‘dark’ times. Ultimately he admitted that the reasons for travelling to some of these locations can be very personal.

“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries” Aldous Huxley

Examples of ‘dark’ locations visited by Dom Joly:

IranIran’s biggest secret: the skiing’s great (The Guardian)

US assassination sitesJFK and the day I took one quick shot in Dallas … (The Independent)

Cambodia genocideChilling eyes in the land of the killing fields (The Independent)

Dom was offered the opportunity to buy Khmer Rouge dictator Pol Pot’s shoes for £500,000

Chernobyl nuclear disasterChernobyl & dash; where better to slake a tourist’s thirst? (The Independent)

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or simply North Korea My Travels: Dom Joly in North Korea (The Guardian)

Beirut, LebanonDom Joly’s Beirut (Daily Telegraph)

Phoenicia Beirut Hotel during the Lebanese Civil War

For reference – Inside the Cask blog post: 24 Hours in the Phoenicia Beirut Hotel

Other examples of Dark Tourism sites include:

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Japan: Dedicated to the memories of the 140,000 direct and indirect victims of the nuclear attack on Japan, the memorial park includes the skeletal ruins of the building now known as the A-Bomb Dome – the closest building to the centre of the explosion to remain standing.

Auschwitz Birkenau, Poland: The concentration and extermination camp where approximately one million European Jews were murdered by the Nazis. Each year over a million people visit the site, to reflect upon and learn about the events of the holocaust.

Hoi An, Vietnam: Tourists visiting the city of Hoi An can book tours to the nearby site of the My Lai Massacre, where hundreds of women and children were brutally murdered by US soldiers during the Vietnam war.

Robben Island Prison Museum, South Africa: For over three centuries, Robben Island, just off the coast of Cape Town, was used to hold political prisoners. It was here where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars and the site is now considered a symbol of triumph over repression and racism.

For Reference and further reading:


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