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Dark tourism is trending

Destinations like Chernobyl attract more and more travellers from all over the world. But what is the fascination about the “dark”? In an interview Dr. Philip Stone, Executive Director, Institute of Dark Tourism Research (iDRT) at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston, England, talks about this phenomenon.

Dr. Stone, what’s the fascination about “dark tourism”?

In many ways, the term ‘dark tourism’ is simply an academic typology to denote travel to sites of death and disaster. That said, the fascination is inherent in our desire to witness sites of fatality, and how others have died in tragic circumstances.

Do you see an increased interest of travellers over the past few years?

Dark tourism has certainly captured media and scholarly imaginations. Whether there has been a corresponding increase in visitation to dark tourism sites is more difficult to ascertain. However, there has certainly been a marked increase in how societies remember and memorialize ‘heritage that hurts’. And it is this that perhaps is driving the dark tourism phenomenon. 

What would be striking examples for dark tourism?

Dark tourism exists in many ‘shades’ or forms. The key issue is how visitor sites portray acts of fatality, and how we represent acts of shame and places of pain. Some of the most popular or well-known sites are certainly the “lost places” of Chernobyl in the Ukraine or the “Killing fields” in Cambodia.

Is there also criticism when it comes to this form of travel?

Often, criticism is leveled at the seemingly moral panic caused by dark tourism. Of course, ethical dimensions of this consumer activity are multifarious, relative, and thus difficult to ascertain. However, it is right to have debate on the ethical consumption of specific dark tourism sites and to understand broader ramifications of this kind of tourism.

Why did you personally choose to focus on this topic?

I’m interested in thanatology – the study of society’s reaction to death and mortality. Dark tourism is a thanatological concern of how we deal with our significant dead, how and why we remember certain acts of death and atrocity as well as the political, cultural, and sociological issues associated with that. 

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