What exactly is dark tourism?

When you hear the word ‘tourism,’ the first images that you conjure are probably those of luxurious hotels, exciting new places, and fun, adventurous activities. After all, travel and tourism are for fun and escaping everyday life, right?

Places such as memorials, cemeteries, and museums immortalizing the greatest crimes or catastrophes of human history likely don’t cross your mind at first. These morbid locales are what we call dark tourism destinations.

Interestingly, a large number of travellers have thought about it. They started what we now refer to as Dark Tourism. In this article, with the help of a study made by Passport Photo Online, we will shine some light on this new travel trend and examine what people think about this gloomy new fascination.

Considering that Halloween is fast approaching, now seems like the perfect time to explore this rather morbid trend.

The Rise of Dark Tourism 2022 Study

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What is a dark tourism destination?

This new travel trend takes the idea of exploring famous places up a notch on a scale of how dark and horrific events took place there in the past. Our history is unfortunately filled to the brim with events that many would agree should never have happened.

Wars have been fought, lives have been lost, crimes have been committed, and catastrophes struck. All of this is somewhat celebrated by the trend of dark tourism.

Dark tourism destinations include places that are, in one way or another, documenting the worst events that have happened in human history.

It would seem that the famous quote from George Santayana: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it,” is what encourages some travellers to seek out these very specific dark tourism destinations. People are now eager to visit the most macabre places.

What’s interesting is that this trend is actually quite well-received. Statistics from the study tell us that almost half (46%) of the surveyed Americans have a positive attitude toward the whole idea, and only 9% admitted to not appreciating the trend at all.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

What motivates dark tourists?

I mention the famous quote by Santayana because it describes the most important aspect of the trend. According to studies, the educational aspect is the most important reason why people decide to practice dark tourism. I truly agree that if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.

The study found that 82% of Americans have visited at least one dark tourism destination. And more than half admitted that it was the desire to educate themselves that put them on that path. The close second reason that convinced travellers was to pay their respects to those affected by the darkest events that have gone down in history.

Motivations such as these may suggest to some that perhaps it’s the older tourists that want to preserve knowledge and pay tribute to the victims of the past, especially since some of them may actually remember them quite well. Well, the study actually contradicts that assumption quite a bit.

Of the 82% that admitted to practicing dark tourism at least once in their life, the most experienced are:

  • Gen Z (25 or younger): 91%
  • Millennials (26–38): 83%
  • Gen Xers (39–54): 80%
  • Baby Boomers (55+): 71%

Surprising? Perhaps. But it’s also good to see younger generations still have a considerable interest in history and wish to mix travelling with education. The best way to prevent history from repeating itself is to educate ourselves. I myself have visited several of the destination listed above, including Alcatraz and Ground Zero in New York.

The most famous dark tourism destinations

The unfortunate truth is that there are plenty of dark tourism sites around the world. You don’t need a history book to know that pretty much every city, region, and country has had their share of horrible events. If you’re serious about dark tourism and wish to visit the most famous (or infamous) places, look no further.

These are some of the most popular places for dark tourists to visit:

  • Pearl Harbor National Memorial, Hawaii
  • Parisian Catacombs
  • Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in California
  • Auschwitz Concentration Camps in Poland
  • Hiroshima & Nagasaki
  • Chornobyl Nuclear Powerplant

Of course, there are plenty more. This list could, unfortunately, go on and on. All of the places mentioned above are what a dark tourist would refer to as the most conventional destinations to see first.

The ethics of dark tourism

Every idea is bound to find its opposition and this new travel trend is no different. We’ve already talked about how people are, in general, appreciative of the bigger picture and approve of the trend.

However, we must admit that 9% of those surveyed who spoke up against dark tourism do bring up some very convincing arguments. The most important reasons why some disapprove of dark tourism are:

  • they believe the whole idea, at its core, exploits human suffering
  • there’s a concern that dark tourism sites are presented with a bias, whitewashing parts of history
  • dark tourism desecrates the sites of human deaths
Dark Tourism destinations controversy

It is hard to argue with these points. They’re all fair, but I’d like to give dark tourists the benefit of the doubt. I hope that they truly have come only to pay respects and learn. In educating ourselves and those around us, we can hope to create a brighter future.

Dark tourism is one of the latest travel trends that saw a major spike in popularity this year. Plenty of people chose to visit places with dark and bloody histories over sandy beaches.

Driven by a desire to learn or pay respects to those who were affected by wars and catastrophes, dark tourists have spread around the world to visit places such as Pearl Harbor, the catacombs in Paris, and Nazi Concentration Camps in Poland.

Vancouver also has a fairly grisly history. The Gastown area is notoriously haunted. If you’re in town, you can check out a haunted walking tour and see for yourself. For a more uplifting, but perhaps just as spooky, Halloween evening, check out the Black Lagoon pop-up bar happening across North America. Vancouver’s event is being held at the Butcher & Bullock bar until October 31.

What are your thoughts on dark tourism? Have you ever visited a morbid, historic site?