The bright side of Dark Tourism

A day like any other

It is the 9th of September 2001, a day like any other. People are rolling out of their beds to go to work, meetings, events or activities. Including you, you get dressed, brush your teeth and you grab a quick breakfast on your way to the bus. The weather is terrible, the streets are busy and people are standing in your way, and what is that? It is your bus, ready to leave! You run, rush and yes, just in time. You to take a seat and while you sit down you think: ‘yes, another normal day has started’.

Really? Is this again a day in the normal grind of life? As we all know by now, this particular day was not just like any other, this was a day of change. This was the day that Al Qaida terrorists hijacked four American airplanes and attacked the Twin Towers who were parading glorious in New York city. This was the day that 3.000 innocent souls lost their lives and the day that changed the American history forever [1].

9/11 Memorial & Museum, source: Pinterest

To memorialize this day and the three thousand people who lost their lives, a memorial monument and museum have been set up [1]. This monument and museum are better known as ‘Ground Zero’. With more than 30 million visitors since the opening in September 2011, this site is known as the world’s most popular dark tourism site [2].


Basics of the D-word

Dark tourism is a term that for some people is still unknown. Dark tourism was first defined by two researchers named Lennon and Foley in 1996 [3]. In order to spare you from a detailed and difficult definition, here is a simple definition of dark tourism.

“Dark tourism is the travel to places which are associated with tragedy, suffering or death [4]”.

The purpose of these visits are able to differ from education, to entertainment and remembrance [3,5]. The most popular dark tourism site worldwide as mentioned before is National 9/11 Memorial & Museum ‘Ground Zero’. Other examples are: the Auschwitz concentration camp, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Pompeii in Italy and the prison Island Alcatraz in the USA [6]. Maybe you have never visited one of these sites, but changes are likely that you unconsciously participated in dark tourism, this because the practice of dark tourism can also be as simple as visiting a cemetery.

During the years many researches have conducted studies on this subject. For example, Lennon and Foley studied how dark sites impacts visitor’s perception towards their dark tourism trip [7]. On the other hand, Seaton [8] and Niemelä [9] tried to identify the motivating factors, desires and purposes sought by dark tourists in visiting dark tourism sites. Interesting, don’t you think?

Woman visiting Pompeii, source: Dr. Prem


A motive for the dark

What I am wondering is, why would a person ever want to visit a place associated with this much pain and tragedy? This is a question which might have come up with you as well. Thanks to several studies we are able to answer this question. As it turns out, a person’s first interest into the dark is caused by us – human beings – being fascinated with death. To be more specific, our own mortality and our fear of death is a part of our lives and shapes our common interest in this subject [10]. This is not surprising, for example when we take a look at our ancestors, who attended bloody Roman games, made pilgrimages to sites of torture and who saw a public execution as a social popular event. Maybe for now just stick to our festivals on the beach?

When we take a closer look to the motivation for dark tourism, there are multiple drives and motives for people. The strongest motives for tourists to visit a dark tourism site are based on emotions and gaining knowledge [9]. Dark tourist are trying to seek heritage and searching for nostalgia, which are both derived from a certain feeling of curiosity [9]. Because when taking a closer look at yourself, when seeing the news or maybe visiting a dark tourism site, you are feeling curious. Curious about what happened, how those people might feel and curious about what is coming next.

 “If it bleeds it leads” – Armstrong Williams

The brighter side

Abandoned Chernobyl, source: Express

Speaking of curiosity, are you also curious about the effects of dark tourism on people and their perception?

At least some researchers were, for example Li-Hui Chang who studied the impact of dark tourism on a tourists’ emotional experience and geopolitical knowledge in 2017 [11]. The thing about this research is that the results are really surprising. Most however would expect to be sad after visiting a place which is associated with great amounts of pain and death. However, the results of this study indicated the total opposite, namely that dark tourist are more likely to develop positive emotions while visiting a dark site, rather than negative emotions [11]. I know this sounds crazy, but take a close look at yourself. Don’t you think that sensing the terrors from the past and by knowing what these people went through will result in a feeling of empathy and thankfulness?

Yes, it will. According to Chang, L. (2017) and Stone, P. & Sharpley, R. (2008), visiting dark sites results in the positive emotions of thankfulness and creating empathy for the people who have suffered. For instance, when you visit a dark site you are able to celebrate your own life and be grateful for sacrifice of other. We – as empathic human beings – are also more likely to relate to and understand each other and our differences, as well as being more capable of forgiveness [13]. With this last statement still fresh in your head, I would like to dare you to think about the following: dark tourism has the ability to stop future dark events from happening again, by being a reminder of tragedy and by resulting in more understandable and forgivable human beings.


In the end..

Dark tourism, the name itself already indicates something heavy and unpleasant. But still, I would like to ask you to step out of this bubble and to see dark tourism as something positive. As a mean to understand each other better and to bring us all closer, with the ultimate goal to prevent such tragic events from happening again. But the most important question is, do you see the bright side of dark tourism?

Source: Pinterest



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Reference List

[1] 9/11 Memorial. (2016, 05 20). Museum Marks 2nd Anniversary, Welcomes 5.6 Million Visitors. Retrieved from:

[2] 9/11 Memorial. (2016). Annual Report, Nation September 11 Momorial & mesum. Retrieved from:

[3] Lennon, J., & Foley, M. (2002). Dark Tourism: The Attraction of Death and Disaster. London: Continuum.

[4] Bohemian Blog. (n.d.). Dark Tourism. Retrieved from:

[5] Stone, P. (2006). A dark tourism spectrum: Towards a typology of death and macabre related tourist sites, attractions and exhibitions. Tourism: An Interdisciplinary International Journal 54: 145 160.

[6] Hohenhaus, P. (n.d.). Top 10 dark tourism sites. Retrieved from:           

[7] Lennon, J.J. &Foley, M. (1999). Interpretation of the unimaginable: the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC, and “dark tourism”. J Travel Res 38: 46-50.

[8] Seaton, A.V. (1996). From thanatopsis to thanatourism: Guided by the dark. Int J Heritage Studies 2:234-244.

[9] Niemelä, T. (2010). Motivation Factors in Dark Tourism. Lathi: Lathi University of Applied Sciences.

[10] Stone, Dr P. (2013). “Deviance, Dark Tourism and ‘Dark Leisure’: Towards a (re)configuration of morality and the taboo in secular society”, Contemporary Perspectives in Leisure: Meanings, Motives and Lifelong Learning. Ed. S. Elkington and S. Gammon. Abington, Oxon: Routledge.

[11] Chang, L. (2017, 06 12). Tourists’ Perception of Dark Tourism and its Impact on their Emotional Experience and Geopolitical Knowledge: A Comparative Study of Local and Non-local Tourist. J Tourism Res Hospitality, Vol: 6 Issue: 3. Retrieved from:

[12] Stone, P. & Sharpley, R. (2008). Consuming dark tourism: A thanatological perspective. Annals of Tourism Research 35: 574-595.

[13] Hodgson, L.K. & Wertheim, E.H. (2007). Does good emotion management aid forgiving? Multiple dimensions of empathy, emotion management and forgiveness of self and others. J Social and Personal Relationships 24: 931-949


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