What is dark tourism and why is it so popular?
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Dark tourism is a type of tourism that has received increasing attention in recent years. TV shows, such as Chernobyl and The Dark Tourist, have introduced the concept of dark tourism to the minds of motives of many tourists around the world. But what is dark tourism? Is dark tourism ethical? How can you be a ‘good’ dark tourist?
In this post I will define the concept of dark tourism, explain why dark tourism is so popular and provide a few examples of dark tourism sites. I will also discuss the ethics of dark tourism, which are somewhat controversial.
What is dark tourism?
Dark tourism definitions
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Dark tourism, also known as black tourism, thanatourism or grief tourism, is tourism that is associated with death or tragedy.
The act of dark tourism is somewhat controversial, with some viewing it as an act of respect and others as unethical practice.
Popular dark tourism attractions include Auschwitz, Chernobyl and Ground Zero. Lesser known dark tourism attractions might include cemeteries, zombie-themed events or historical museums.
Dark Tourism started to gain academic attention in the early 90s, but it is only recently that it has sparked the interest of the media and the general public.
An early definition defined by John Lennon and Malcolm Foley , define dark tourism as “the representation of inhuman acts, and how these are interpreted for visitors”.
In a more recent publication, Kevin Fox Gotham defines dark tourism as “the circulation of people to places characterized by distress, atrocity, or sadness and pain. As a more specific component of dark tourism, “disaster tourism” denotes situations where the tourism product is generated within, and from, the aftermath of a major disaster or traumatic event”.
Dark tourism has become the subject of academic debate more and more in recent years, most notably for its critiques and assessment of associated impacts.
Dark tourism encompasses many different ‘dark’ activities. These can range from visiting an attraction such as the London Dungeons, where people are seen laughing and joking (did you know it finishes with a height-restricted ride that imitates people being hung!?), to tourists racing to the scenes of a disaster to provide help and relief. Naturally these are two very different ends of the dark tourism spectrum.
To help us understand the dark tourism sector better, we can organise activities according to the dark tourism spectrum.
On one end of the spectrum (the darkest end) we have extreme or serious dark tourism activities. These are activities which often involve an educational element, such as learning about a Nuclear disaster or a ship wreck. Activities on this end of the scale are associated with an authentic experience, whereby the tourist visits an actual historical site or speaks with people who were involved. Examples might include visiting the Berlin Wall or Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields in Cambodia.
On the other end of the spectrum, activities tend to be of a more commercial nature. A Jack the Ripper themed funfair ride or a comical play based around the Black Plague are effectively romanticised versions of dark events or times in history. The intention is for the tourist to have fun and enjoy themselves, rather than to be educated about said historical reference.
The question is, why is dark tourism so popular? Why do we choose to visit places of death and tragedy? What is it that attracts us to such sorrow?
For many, it is purely the possibility of being able to emotionally absorb oneself in a place of tragedy. It is important for people to engage and immerse themselves in past history and culture . By visiting dark tourism sites, we are able to give ourselves time to reflect on history.
Dark tourism has close ties with educational tourism. Particularly in cases of darkest/darker tourism. For many people, this is a dominant, if not their main, motivation for being a dark tourist. Whilst dark tourism may not be a happy leisure experience, many people enjoy the educational aspect that comes with it. I know that I have certainly enjoyed visiting famous cemeteries and learning more about WW2 during my travels to Berlin and Poland .
Visitors of dark tourism sites are from a wide socio-demographic group. Motivations stem from educational purposes, the desire to understand past affairs, etc. Whilst other motivations stem from the desire to experience something different or new.
I recently watched a series on Netflix called The Dark Tourist. In this show, journalist David Farrier focuses on dark tourism and tourist behaviour towards popular dark tourism sites that are historically associated with death and/or tragedy.
In each episode, David travels to a different dark tourism destination. Some of these sites I have visited before and others I have now added to my bucket list. If you’re interested in learning more about dark tourism attractions around the world then this is a great show to watch!
If reading is more your thing, there are also a couple of really great books on dark tourism. Two of my favourites are Don’t Go There: From Chernobyl to North Korea—one man’s quest to lose himself and find everyone else in the world’s strangest places and The Dark Tourist: Sightseeing in the world’s most unlikely holiday destinations. Both books are comical repertoires of the authors’ adventures and mishaps when visiting dark tourism attractions around the world. This makes for some great like, leisurely reading over a glass of wine or a cup of tea!
Types of dark tourism
According to Stone (2006), there are seven main types of dark tourism sites.
Fun factories are essentially play centres. Whilst these are usually associated with children, they can also be aimed at adults. There are, for example, escape rooms which evolve around a dark theme, zombie chases or theatrical activities that all take place in dark fun factories.
There are many different dark exhibitions throughout the world. I visited several during my travels to Berlin that were focussed on the Holocaust. I visited exhibitions on the Khmer Rouge Regime in Cambodia. I have been to exhibitions about the Vietnam War and many more.
Dark exhibitions are a good opportunity for tourists to learn about the dark histories or events of a destination in a respectful way.
Many destinations open their historical dungeons for public viewing. These may be in their original state or they may have been altered for tours. The London Dungeons, for example, have become rather ‘Disneyfied’, in the way that they encompass live actors, sensory activities and rides.
There are some really interesting cemeteries that I have visited throughout the world. Whilst visiting a graveyard might not be at the top of every tourists list, you might be surprised at just how busy these places can be! Some famous cemeteries that I have visited include the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, the Recoleta Cemetery in Argentina and Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow. Did you know the Taj Mahal is also a dark resting place? Yep, I’ve been there too.
There are many shrines throughout the world which are popular tourist attractions, perhaps the most famous being the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Shrines are especially popular in Asian countries.
Sites of conflict often become dark tourism sites once peace has been restored and a reasonable period of time has passed. One of the most interesting conflict sites that I have visited was Vietnam, where I learned all about the Vietnam War. The D-Day Beaches in France were also very interesting.
There are several areas of genocide which are popular with tourists. Whilst this is obviously a sad history, many people choose to visit sites such as Auschwitz or Karaganda, Kazakhstan to learn more about the history.
I think that Stone has missed out a key type of dark tourism in his list- disaster sites- so I will add this in below.
Disaster sites, whether in the immediate aftermath or after some time has passed, are popular with dark tourists. A subset of dark tourism, disaster tourism has increased in popularity in recent years. The recent documentary on Chernobyl, which was ranked the most highly user rated TV series ever, has helped raise awareness of disaster tourism amongst the public and tourism to this area has since increased significantly. I have written a detailed post on this topic, you can click here to read it: Disaster tourism: What, why and where .
There are a variety of types of disaster tourism that falls under the pillar of dark tourism, which include:
- Holocaust tourism
- Disaster tourism
- Grave tourism
- Cold war tourism
- Nuclear tourism
- Prison and persecution site tourism
Whilst each of these concepts are a type of tourism in their own right, they do share many similarities and are therefore classified together under the umbrella term of dark tourism.
So, is it really ethical to visit sites of death and tragedy? Or to photograph those who continue to sorrow for all that is lost? Or to take a selfie in a site of sadness? Many people do indeed question the ethics of taking part in dark tourism.
Take the response to the recent influx of Instagram photos taken in Chernobyl, for instance. There has been outrage, as shown in this newspaper article , at so-called ‘influencers’ and their inappropriate photographs taken at the historical nuclear site, where people have dressed up as scientists or posed in their underwear.
Whilst I think that most of us would agree that this is not sustainable tourist behaviour , there are a range of views as to what is appropriate and what is not when taking part in dark tourism.
As a general guide, however, here is a list of some of the behaviours demonstrated by dark tourists, which have been deemed offensive or inappropriate:
- Photographing people in moments of sorrow
- Smiling and laughing around those experiencing hardship
- Treating people as if they are museum exhibits
- Making inappropriate remarks
- Wearing disrespectful clothes
- Using inappropriate language
- Committing to disaster tourism for personal gain (e.g. personal satisfaction, to enhance CV etc)
- Making money from others’ hardships
- Talking loudly about unrelated issues
- Showing general signs of disrespect
Dark tourism destinations
There are a wide range of disaster tourism destinations (more than one would have imagined!), many of which would be overlooked as a dark tourism destination.
Below I have listed a few examples of dark tourism destinations, all of which demonstrate the different types of dark tourism as listed above.
Following the largest and most deadly Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz was turned into a memorial after the end of WWII. Auschwitz has been deemed the very epitome of all dark tourism.
Today, the memorial site is estimated to have welcomed almost 50 million tourists over its time. The tourist numbers have, in fact, become so high in recent years that the government have limited how many tickets to the area can be sold to tourists each day. I was caught out by this on my trip there a couple of years ago so my tip is to book ahead!
Chernobyl has been regarded as one of the worst nuclear disasters in History and I learnt a lot about this when I watched the recent documentary that was shown on TV.
Chernobyl is a very popular destination for dark tourism, however unlike Auschwitz, this destination remains a hazard and is to date a dangerous site to visit due to the radiation levels still pertinent.
It is interesting to read in a recent article published this month that booking numbers have increased by 30% in the last 3 months following the recent tv series on the disaster.
Hiroshima preserves the memory of the worlds first nuclear attack. An atomic bomb at Hiroshima killed more people in one instant than any other killing in history.
Hiroshima continues to promote itself as a symbol of peace rather than that of a devastated city.
In 2016, the number of visitors reached over 12 million. Over 11 million were domestic tourists , 323,000 were students on school trips, and 1,176,000 were international visitors.
Following one of the worlds worst terrorist attacks, the 9/11 memorial site is one of the world’s top dark tourism attractions and is one of the most visited sites of any kind.
Within the first 2 years of the memorial opening, over 10 million visitors arrived and a couple years later the total figure rose to over 23 million.
The Killing Fields are a collection of (more than 300) sites in Cambodia where over a million people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime.
This is a popular tourism attractions and often considered a ‘right of passage’ when backpacking around South East Asia. It is an educational and sorrowful site, highlighting an important time in Cambodia’s history.
One recent article has expressed the issues faced with the high volume of tourists visiting the Killing Fields. This is due to the number of tourists ‘leaving their mark’ and graffiting on prison walls.
Bikini Atoll is associated mainly with the nuclear testing programme that the United States of America conducted.
Unlike natural disasters, tourists could not flock to Bikini Atoll immediately after, and even to this day, Bikini Atoll remains an extremely hazardous place to visit despite the US granting its safety in 1997.
It is argued that disaster tourists are putting themselves at risk by travelling to Bikini Atoll. There is still a significant level of radiation in the area and the extent of the damage caused below sea level has not been determined.
This particular disaster is categorised as nuclear tourism under the umbrella of dark tourism.
Berlin was the capital of the socialist single party regime of the former GDR. Now it is referred to the as ‘fall of the Berlin Wall’.
Berlin is home to a number of Holocaust and WW2 exhibitions and is popular with educational tourists. I took a student group there a few years ago and I would definitely recommend it for anybody studying tourism or history.
There are other countries that similar experiences too, including dark tourism in Vienna .
Robben Island can be observed as a form of Prison and persecution site tourism. In fact the prison has been recognised and preserved as a UNWTO World Heritage Site.
Prior to its conservation, the Island was a standing prison during the colonial wars, particularly dominante by successive colonial powers (Dutch and British).
Nowadays, the prison is a tourist site welcoming thousands of tourists each year. The tour guides are mostly ex-inmates, providing the tourist with an authentic account of what the prison was like when it was in operation as well as a much needed source of employment for the staff member.
We visited during our trip to South Africa and found it very interesting and educational. I learnt a lot about Nelson Mandela and the history of Apartheid.
Rwanda is a small country in Central Africa and the place where one of the most tragic and largest genocides took place in 1994.
This is now a dark tourism site which is visited by many tourists each year.
One of the most interesting and unusual dark tourism sites that I have visited is Oradur Sur Glane .
In 1944, 642 villagers were massacred in Oradur Sur Glane. Shortly after the war, General Charles de Gaulle declared Oradour should never be rebuilt and instead it should remain a stark memorial to Nazi cruelty. It is fascinating (and eerie) because everything remains untouched to this day.
Have you ever watched the film Pompeii’?, If so then you will know exactly the history behind the city and what happened.
Pompeii has received an enormous amount of visitors and this may be the result of its publicity following its recent film. Before the film was released, Pompeii was attracted on average 2 million visitors annually, a number that remained very steady from 2002 onwards. However, following the release of the film, tourist numbers staggered upwards reaching over 3.5 million.
Another place that I have visited that was particularly memorable was the bone church known as Sedlec Ossuary.
We took a day trip from Prague to visit this unusual attraction, which was eerie and fascinating at the same time!
You can find out a bit more about the bone church in this video.
South of Mexico City, Don Julian Santana begun to hang dolls from treess and buildings as a protection against evil spirits. Today, the Island is known as ‘Island of the Dolls’. Dubbed as the ‘scariest place in Mexico’, it has now become a popular attraction with thrill-seeking dark tourists.
However, it has come to recent attention that the Island has been duplicated to fool tourists into believing they are visiting the original Island.
Now that we know a bit more about the concept of dark tourism, lets summarise the key points:
- Dark tourism involves visiting places associated with death, tragedy, and suffering.
- Dark tourism is a controversial form of tourism that raises ethical concerns.
Dark tourism has been around for centuries, but the term “dark tourism” was only coined in the 1990s.
- Some of the most popular dark tourism destinations include Auschwitz, Ground Zero, and the Killing Fields in Cambodia.
- Dark tourism can be educational and help people understand and appreciate history.
- Dark tourism can also be seen as exploitative and disrespectful to the victims and their families.
- Responsible tourism practices should be followed when engaging in dark tourism.
- The motivations for engaging in dark tourism vary, including curiosity, historical interest, and a desire to pay respects to the victims.
- Dark tourism can have positive economic impacts on local communities.
- Overall, dark tourism is a complex and nuanced form of tourism that requires careful consideration and reflection.
Lastly, lets finish off this article by answering some of the most commonly asked questions on this topic.
Dark tourism refers to travel to places that are associated with death, tragedy, and suffering.
What are some examples of dark tourism destinations?
Examples of dark tourism destinations include Auschwitz, Ground Zero, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, and the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
Is dark tourism ethical?
The ethics of dark tourism are debated. Some people argue that it can be educational and help preserve historical memory, while others believe that it can be exploitative and disrespectful to the victims and their families.
What are some of the motivations for engaging in dark tourism?
Some people are motivated by curiosity, historical interest, a desire to pay respects to the victims, or a desire to challenge their own perceptions and beliefs.
Are there any risks associated with dark tourism?
Some dark tourism destinations may have physical or psychological risks, such as exposure to radiation or disturbing images.
How can I engage in responsible dark tourism?
Responsible dark tourism involves being respectful of the victims and their families, supporting local communities, and being aware of the impact of your visit.
Is dark tourism a new phenomenon?
Can dark tourism be beneficial for local economies?
Yes, dark tourism can bring economic benefits to local communities through increased tourism and job opportunities.
Can dark tourism be educational?
Yes, dark tourism can be educational and help people understand and appreciate history and its impact on society.
Should children be allowed to engage in dark tourism?
Whether children should be allowed to engage in dark tourism depends on the age of the child and the destination being visited. Parents should carefully consider the potential risks and impact on the child’s emotional well-being.
Dark tourism is an interesting concept that has reaped increased attention from both academics and the public in recent years. Whether you are visiting a cemetery, taking part in a zombie race or providing relief after a natural disaster, the opportunities to take part in dark tourism activities are far ranging.
It is fairly clear that there are a number of different types of tourism that all fall under the umbrella of dark tourism. And with the different types of dark tourism, comes a variety of different tourist motivations to visit.
However, despite the different motivations, there are still unresolved ethical concerns that need addressing. From inappropriate selfies to taking photos of people who are grieving, there are differing opinions on whether dark tourism is right or wrong.
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Everything about Dark Tourism | Concept, Types, Examples
What is dark tourism.
Who are Dark Tourists?
The term “dark tourist” refers to a person interested in visiting dark tourism sites and knowing about the dark past and a brighter future, where everything happened. This genre is getting increasingly popular among tourists from all over the world. There is also an increase in searches for the term dark tourism and a few dedicated tourism management agencies, tour guides also exist. Guided tours help you to understand the very recent history, long traditions, exclusion zones etc.
Dark tourism destinations extend globally over 60 years, including places like Bogot, Colombia, Cusco, Peru, Bolivia, Togo, Chernobyl, Romania, Florence, Moscow, Camillo, and many more. All these sites focus on the strong links between history, disasters that they have incurred, have dark histories and are associated with death. A grief tourism destination for a dark tourist can advance and shape their travel experience when visiting a site. Therefore, a person’s identity comes into play when they visit these places. Dark tourism is often confused and considered similar to disaster tourism. Disaster tourism is the practice of visiting locations at which an environmental disaster, either natural or man-made, has occurred. The dark outcome makes it relevant when talking about dark tourism and discussing dark tourist attractions.
An essential quality of dark tourists is the desire to know tragic history and understand deeply twisted history. They have the perspective that the dark destination is a reflection of the past that needs more attention. That’s why they are attracted to these grief places. They have a natural attraction to sites or events related to disasters, war, or other natural calamities. More information is available in the video below if you prefer watching to reading!
Related Article: 6 Reasons Why People Pursue Dark Tourism
Types of Dark Tourism
Many objectives can drive the dark tourist’s motivation to visit any dark sites. Various types of tourism can be linked to dark places that are listed below.
History is vast, which accounts for many intriguing stories. One such interesting and devastating time is World War II that is still remembered and studied. It holds a lot of death and destruction. Dark tourism mainly started in Nazi-ruled Germany. The dark sites of that period showcase the memorials, nature, politics, and the grief of children and citizens.
The horrific stories prompted travelers from all across the globe to visit memorial parks and memorial museums, like Auschwitz, other Nazi concentration camps, or the Holocaust Memorial site. They highlight the remembrance of young and old Jews who lost their lives because of the execution by the government. The place also establishes a contrast between the past and the modern-day. The memorial site attracts a huge mass of events, and the photography becomes souvenirs for people. Movies such as pearl harbor also highlights some examples.
Two places in Poland that are worth mentioning in the context of Holocaust tourism are Warsaw and Oswiecim. Also, these places have served as a location for many big films to recreate authentic events of suffering. Warsaw is the capital city of Poland and one of the major dark tourism destinations. The people suffered the worst living conditions during the Nazi-led government, deportations during the Holocaust, infrastructure loss of almost all the old buildings, and inhuman treatment.
Many people are drawn to visit cemeteries that represent a sad historical time frame. Some people might like to visit because it is a final resting place of a famous person. The burial sites give away interesting storylines that draw people towards them. These places tend to bridge the void between the present and the past, the living and the dead. Like Père Lachaise in Paris receives almost 3.5 million visitors per year. Other famous examples include Burma, Vandayasana, Weave, Cherub in Cambodia, and Garden Cemeteries of the Venerable Buddha.
Heritage tourism is not limited to travel, but it also gives an exposure to access and preserve the intangible cultural heritage. Any type of monument or heritage site that reminds people of a tragedy also gives knowledge about the context of events. The common ground of history combines heritage and dark tourism together. People travel there to discover the treasures of tragedy, war zones in the historic sites. For example, Auschwitz (Death Camp), or Vimy Ridge (war memorial) people get to know the history of a world war period and heritage through travel. Sedlec ossuary in the Czech Republic also can be viewed as an example. These areas are known to have long tradition and places historically important.
Heritage tourism boosts the local economy and enhances tourism development. All the hot spots of cultural heritage can become authentic potential destinations in nature. It also helps the tourist acquire knowledge about important cultural and historical places. It also gives a more profound sense of what can be preserved.
Even in the 21st era, a portion of the world is still under the control of communists. But it draws as an attraction for people to visit those areas and interact with the people, like North Korea. Also, it is impossible to know the natural history of communism in a country without seeing that place.
Another example is Red Tourism, a subset of “tourism in the People’s Republic of China,” in which Chinese people visit locations that give a glimpse of Chinese Communism. It’s widely promoted to establish them as a cultural foundation for future generations. It is visited by many other people from Korean Peninsula and Chinese from eastern Europe.
The visiting of battlefields and war ruins, a dark tourism destination, is not new. There are World War One sites at the Somme, Verdun, or Ypres. Also, a recent example, the areas in the Falklands of the 1982 war are visited. There are also historical re-enactments in period costumes to give a real experience to the people. Mass graves and war zones are also popular examples of battlefield tourism.
Other types and form of dark tourism include famous cemeteries, robben island, site of Vietnam war, site of cold war, bombing sites, dark fun factories and even London dungeon, morbid tourism, memorial park, nuclear tourism, slum tourism, macabre tourism etc. Tourists like to explore the darker side of such places and events.
Also Read: 5 Factors Influencing Tourist Destination and Tourism
Famous Dark Tourism Destinations:
Kigali genocide memorial, africa:.
The dark tourism sector is famous in Southeast Asia. Because of its fusion of rich heritage and tragedy. One such example was the Rwanda genocide in 1994. For about 100 days, members of the Tutsi minority and Hutu ethnic group were slaughtered by armed militias. It is estimated around 500,000 to 600,000 people were brutally killed. After these vulnerable stories came to light, people developed an attraction to the victims, which later generated tourism.
The Kigali Genocide Memorial has the remains of over 250,000 people. There is a visitor center for students and tourist who wants to gain more information about the events leading up to the genocide 1994. It is the principal entry point for foreign visitors and offers a few more sites that are worth exploring. Till now, this incident is a sensitive issue in Rwanda, and it is illegal to talk about ethnicity over there.
Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Poland:
People who were intrigued by the events of the World war will be familiar with the Auschwitz concentration camp. The German higher authorities established it in 1940 in the suburbs of Oświęcim. By 1942 it became one of the largest networks of Nazi death camps. The prisoners were pushed into forced labor, inhumane medical experiments, and mass killings. The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum is a memorial and museum in the memory of the people killed in the camps. It is one of the major attractions of Holocaust Tourism. Also, Auschwitz is called the “epitome of all dark tourism.”
Garden of the Fugitives, Italy:
Pompeii is a world-famous heritage site and attracts Italy’s tourist attention. Additionally, it is one of the most important archaeological sites on Earth for its Roman remains. The ancient town is famous for volcanic ash caused by the eruptions of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79 AD. Even after so many years, it is still well preserved roman town in history. It was rediscovered in the 18th century with the excavation process going on since the 19th century. One-third of the site is still under the ash.
Many mosaics, cultural relics, and remains of human bodies have been found. The archaeologists poured liquid chalk into the hollow cavities left by the decaying bodies to showcase the look of petrified bodies. Some of the plaster casts show a facial expression of calm and falling asleep.
Chernobyl and Pripyat, Ukraine:
In 1986, Chernobyl witnessed the worst nuclear disaster. It resulted from a series of mistakes at the power plant that caused explosions releasing radioactive material into the atmosphere. The winds amplified the destruction by carrying the toxic air over Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, contaminating millions of acres of land that had to be permanently evacuated. Pripyat is also known as the ghost town where tourists worldwide flock to see the amusement park, a moss-covered Ferris wheel, and other examples that give evidence of how lively the town was before the unfortunate incident.
People visiting there get a natural feeling of erosion and disruption that could be seen in the atmosphere of a destination. Chernobyl has not yet reached the final stage of its development and introduction. However, it is still gaining a lot of attention from dark tourists worldwide, especially after the famous web series on this tragic event.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Cambodia
The Cambodian genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot is considered one of the worst crimes against humanity. The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum recalls the genocide and the torture of the victims in prison. It is located in Phnom Penh. The site is a former secondary school used as Security Prison 21 from 1975 to 1979. Around 14,000 to 20,000 victims were captured in prison and tortured. Almost all of them were ended up in the killing fields of Choeung Ek.
Be more educated on Dark Tourism, if it fascinates you
If you think you cannot wait to visit Chernobyl, hike in an authentic mountain in South Africa, visit Mummified Corpse and Museum in Phnom Penh or even attend a Christmas party haunted forest in North Korea. In that case, you are a dark tourist! And, it’s fine to embrace it. Heritage studies also dedicate some part of the syllabus to this field now due to increased academic attention.
Dark Tourism as a field of study:
Dark tourism is a self-professed destination industry and has been defined by the principles of importance, prestige, and high-quality tourism. Tourism research aims to understand society’s problems. It is an application to research the world’s problems from the mistakes done in the past, such as war and terrorism. There are over a million people who are dark tourists which is an evidence that dark tourism is gaining interest.
Dark tourism is known as ‘thanatourism’ in academic literature. It is a broader sense to understand the tourist thinking, history, and re-learning of the events that led to the destruction and later attraction for people. It also understands the effect of the resources in the economy and the upcoming environment. Therefore, dark tourism research is related to the development of the tourism destination.
Many types of research are going for Tourism development in the context of dark tourism. The Institute for Dark Tourism Research (iDTR) is a world-leading academic center for dark tourism scholarship, research, and teaching.
Travel Blogs on Dark Tourism:
There are many blogs on Dark Tourism to increase the knowledge about captivating stories of these destinations. They also give an insight on how to behave and follow the protocols on these types of destinations. it is also depicted in museums, historical and spiritual sites, theaters, films, which can give a lot of information.
Also Read: Policy making in Tourism Industry
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Dark tourism, explained
Why visitors flock to sites of tragedy.
Every year, millions of tourists around the world venture to some of the unhappiest places on Earth: sites of atrocities, accidents, natural disasters or infamous death. From Auschwitz to Chernobyl, Gettysburg, the site of the Kennedy assassination and the 9/11 Memorial in New York, visitors are making the worst parts of history a piece of their vacation, if not the entire point.
Experts call the phenomenon dark tourism, and they say it has a long tradition. Dark tourism refers to visiting places where some of the darkest events of human history have unfolded. That can include genocide, assassination, incarceration, ethnic cleansing, war or disaster — either natural or accidental. Some might associate the idea with ghost stories and scares, but those who study the practice say it’s unrelated to fear or supernatural elements.
“It’s not a new phenomenon,” says J. John Lennon, a professor of tourism at Glasgow Caledonian University, in Scotland, who coined the term with a colleague in 1996. “There’s evidence that dark tourism goes back to the Battle of Waterloo where people watched from their carriages the battle taking place.”
The hit US drama "Chernobyl" brought a new generation of tourists to the nuclear disaster zone. (Genya Savilov/AFP via Getty Images)
That was in 1815, but he cites an even longer-ago example: crowds gathering to watch public hangings in London in the 16th century. Those are relatively modern compared with the bloody spectacles that unfolded in the Colosseum in Rome.
There aren’t official statistics on how many people participate in dark tourism every year or whether that number is on the rise. An online travel guide run by an enthusiast, Dark-Tourism.com , includes almost 900 places in 112 countries.
But there’s no question the phenomenon is becoming more visible, in part thanks to the Netflix series “Dark Tourist” that was released last year. And popular culture is fueling more visitation to some well-known sites: After the HBO miniseries “Chernobyl,” about the 1986 power plant explosion, came out this spring, travel companies that bring people to the area said they saw a visitor increase of 30 to 40 percent. Ukraine’s government has since declared its intention to make the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone an official tourist spot, despite lingering radiation.
[How to navigate the etiquette of dark tourism]
Philip Stone, executive director of the Institute for Dark Tourism Research at the University of Central Lancashire, in England, says anecdotally that he sees the appetite for such destinations growing.
“I think, for political reasons or cultural reasons, we are turning to the visitor economy to remember aspects of death and dying, disaster,” he says. “There is a kind of memorial mania going on. You could call that growth in dark tourism.”
(Illustrations by Laura Perez for The Washington Post)
Why are tourists so enamored with places that are, as Lennon puts it, “synonymous with the darkest periods of human history?” Academics who study the practice say it’s human nature.
[Ukraine wants Chernobyl to be a tourist trap. But scientists warn: Don’t kick up dust.]
“We’ve just got this cultural fascination with the darker side of history; most history is dark,” Stone says. “I think when we go to these places, we see not strangers, but often we see ourselves and perhaps what we might do in those circumstances.”
“When we go to these places, we see not strangers, but often we see ourselves and perhaps what we might do in those circumstances.”
Philip Stone, executive director, Institute for Dark Tourism Research at the University of Central Lancashire
There is no one type of traveler who engages in dark tourism: It could be a history buff who takes the family on a road trip to Civil War battlefields, a backpacker who treks to the Colosseum in Rome, or a tourist who seeks out the near-abandoned areas near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster, in 2011, in Japan.
Visitors walk between barbed wire fences at the Auschwitz I memorial concentration camp site in Oswiecim, Poland. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Those who are most familiar with the phenomenon do not condemn it. In fact, they argue that the most meaningful dark-tourism sites can help visitors understand the present and be more thoughtful about the future.
“These are important sites that tell us a lot about what it is to be human,” says Lennon, the tourism professor. “I think they’re important places for us to reflect on and try to better understand the evil that we’re capable of.”
There are even efforts underway to research the way children experience dark tourism, a joint project between the Institute for Dark Tourism Research and the University of Pittsburgh.
Mary Margaret Kerr, a professor of education and psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, says the idea came about when the National Park Service asked her to help create a team to design children’s materials for families who visit the memorial to United Airlines Flight 93, which was hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001, and crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
Her research team now includes middle-school students who have studied how their peers interact with the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, in Washington, or the site of the Johnstown flood, in Pennsylvania, which killed more than 2,200 in 1889.
(Illustration by Laura Perez for The Washington Post)
“We wouldn’t want families to stop traveling, and adults want to see these places for very good reasons,” Kerr says. “It’s not so much making the decision for parents whether you take the children or not, but what are the appropriate safeguards."
She said the goal is to provide appropriate safeguards and ways to experience a site, even for children too young to grasp the history, “so the family can be there together, but each member of the family can take meaning that works out for them at their age and stage.”
As more sites with dark histories become popular spots — even part of organized tour packages — experts say there is a risk that they could become exploited, used to sell tchotchkes or placed as backdrops for unseemly photos.
“It does kind of invite that passive behavior — let’s call it that touristy behavior — that might be out of place,” Stone says.
Visitors look at the bodies of eruption victims exposed in the ruins of ancient Pompeii. (Mario Laporta/AFP via Getty Images)
Bad conduct by tourists at sensitive sites — smiling selfies at concentration camps, for example — has been widely shunned on social media. The online Dark-Tourism.com travel guide cautions against such behavior, as well as the ethically questionable “voyeurism” of visiting an ongoing or very recent tragedy to gape.
“These are important sites that tell us a lot about what it is to be human. I think they’re important places for us to reflect on and try to better understand the evil that we’re capable of.”
J. John Lennon, tourism professor at Glasgow Caledonian University
“What IS endorsed here is respectful and enlightened touristic engagement with contemporary history, and its dark sites/sides, in a sober, educational and non-sensationalist manner,” the site says .
Lennon says he’s sometimes “dumbfounded” by some of the behavior that gets publicized, but he declines to say what the right or wrong way is for tourists to behave. Overall, he says, he still hopes that by visiting places with dark histories, people are becoming better informed about atrocities like racial and ethnic cleansing.
“I’m heartened by the fact that they choose to try to understand this difficult past,” Lennon says.
Berlin’s Holocaust memorial is ‘not a place for fun selfies’
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A selfie ban in the Czech Republic is the latest effort to combat bad tourist behavior
Hannah Sampson is a staff writer at The Washington Post for By The Way, where she reports on travel news.
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Fatality rates are usually not what customers want to hear about, but one carrier's regional Twitter account went there anyway.
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Dark Tourists: Profile, Practices, Motivations and Wellbeing
1 Research Center in Business and Economics (CICEE), Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa, Rua Sta. Marta 47, 5.º Andar, 1150-293 Lisboa, Portugal
2 ISCET-Higher Institute of Business Sciences and Tourism, Rua de Cedofeita, 285, 4050-180 Porto, Portugal
José A. Fraiz-Brea
3 Department of Business Organization, Business Administration and Tourism Faculty, University of Vigo, 32004 Ourense, Spain
4 Center for Philosophical and Humanistic Studies, Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences, Portuguese Catholic University, Rua de Camões 60, 4710-362 Braga, Portugal
Datasets are available upon request to the authors.
This work aims to address whether knowing what dark tourism is (or not) impacts rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, psychological vulnerability, and tourist wellbeing, as well as practices and motivations for dark tourism. A quantitative approach, based on a survey of 993 respondents, reveals that women and more educated participants know more about dark tourism; people who know what dark tourism is have visited more Holocaust museums, sites of human tragedy and natural disasters, concentration camps, and prisons; show more curiosity, need to learn and understand, and need to see morbid things. A model was found showing that gender, age, know/do not know dark tourism, and motivations (curiosity, the need to learn, the need to understand, and pleasure) explained 38.1% of a dark tourism practice index. Most findings also indicate that rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, and psychological vulnerability are associated with darker practices. Greater wellbeing was not found in participants who knew in advance what dark tourism was. Interestingly, participants who visit tragic human sites present higher values in hostility and tourist wellbeing than those who do not. In summary, people who visit more dark places and score higher on negative personality characteristics have higher values of tourist wellbeing.
Many people are increasingly looking for new and unique touristic experiences to satisfy a wide range of motivations. That has driven the segmentation and the emergence of increasingly specific typologies, such as dark tourism, that, in contrast with mass tourism, are characterized by a high degree of diversification and individualization. Dark tourism comprises visiting real or recreated places related with death, suffering, disgrace, or the macabre [ 1 , 2 ]. From the perspective of dark tourism places, it is important to understand what drives people to visit them to design satisfying experiences. We may think of death as an obvious motivation, often part of the site’s history, but it is not always the primary or explicitly recognized motivation for a visit. Sharpley and Stone [ 3 ] admitted that the field of motivation to visit dark tourism destinations remains an understudied area, although recent literature has provided an increasing number of empirical studies about the reasons for visiting those sites [ 4 , 5 ].
This research intends to contribute to the dark tourism literature by seeking to understand whether people know what dark tourism is and identify a differentiated sociodemographic, motivational, and tourist practice profile between people who know and do not know what dark tourism is. In addition, it aims to understand if dark tourists’ motivations for visiting dark tourism destinations explain their practices. The research approach relies on empirically exploring the motivations, practices, and sociodemographic characteristics of a sample of 933 people that participated in a survey held in Portugal.
The remainder of the text is organized as follows: firstly, a brief theoretical background is put forward, focused on the dark tourism concept and dark tourists’ motivations and practices; then, the quantitative study’s applied methods and obtained results are described; finally, the results are discussed, and conclusions and implications are drawn.
2. Theoretical Background
Despite the fact that some authors consider it one of the older forms of tourism, it has gained great popularity amongst academics from the 1990s onwards [ 3 ], confirmed by the significant volume of literature published ever since [ 4 , 5 , 6 ]. However, understanding the demand for this type of tourism persists as poorly defined and theoretically fragile [ 3 , 4 , 7 , 8 ]. For a long time, places that have been the scene of wars, disasters, deaths, and atrocities have always fascinated people, motivating them to travel [ 3 , 9 ]. Sharpley and Stone [ 3 ] often use the term dark tourism as the type of tourism that encompasses traveling to sites related to death, suffering, and macabre—a globally accepted definition. However, Tarlow [ 10 ] implies the phenomenon is complex by describing it as “visits to places where noteworthy historical tragedies or deaths have occurred that continue to impact our lives”, which raises the question about the inherent motives to consume dark tourism.
2.1. Dark Tourists and Their Motivation to Dark Tourism Consumption
Stone’s (2006) idea of dark tourism goes far beyond related attractions. From this standpoint, diverse well-visited tourist sites may become places of dark tourism due to their history linked with death—e.g., suicides in the Eiffel Tower, tombs in the pyramids of Egypt, the Valley of the Kings, and the Taj Mahal, funeral art at the Cairo Museum, and terrorist attacks in Ground Zero [ 11 ]. Ashworth and Isaac [ 12 ] also suggest that all tourist places have a greater or lesser potential of being perceived as “dark.” Accordingly, the same dark tourism place can evoke different experiences in different visitors (i.e., a site one visitor sees as “dark” may not be for another); thus, the authors argue that no site is intrinsically, automatically, and universally “dark,” as, even they may be labeled as dark, they are not always perceived as such by all visitors.
Walter [ 13 ] states that most dark tourism is not specifically motivated, comprising only parallel visits inserted in a trip of a wider reach. Nonetheless, the literature indicates that tourists who visit dark places are not a homogeneous group, and neither the factors inherent to the visitation are the same. Moreover, the “darker” motivation can undertake distinctive levels of intensity. Consequently, in addition to the fascination and interest in death [ 12 , 14 , 15 ], the visit to this type of place is also motivated by personal, cultural, and psychological reasons [ 4 ] or driven by entertainment purposes [ 7 , 16 ].
The literature indicates numerous reasons to visit dark tourism sites: educational experience, desire to learn and understand past events, and historical interest [ 7 , 17 , 18 , 19 , 20 ], as self-discovery purposes [ 17 ], identity [ 7 ], memory, remembrance, celebration, nostalgia, empathy, contemplation, and homage [ 10 , 17 , 20 ], curiosity [ 17 , 19 , 20 , 21 ], the search for novelty, authenticity, and adventure [ 2 , 20 ], convenience when visiting other places [ 19 ], and also status, prestige, affirmation, and recognition that these visits provide [ 22 ]. To a lesser extent, the literature also mentions religious and pilgrimage reasons, feelings of guilt, a search for social responsibility, or heritage experience.
The desire to learn and understand stands out as a motive associated with sites of death and/or heritage. Whereas some visitors exhibit a considerable need for emotional experience and connection to their heritage, engaging, as Slade puts it [ 23 ], in a “profound heritage experience”, and emotionally to the “dark” space influence [ 24 ], other visitors may be knowledge-seekers, who are more interested in a knowledge-enriching experience [ 25 ] than an emotional one and look for gaining a deeper understanding. Isaac et al. [ 20 ] found that memory, gaining knowledge and awareness, and exclusivity were important motivations for dark tourists; also, “(…), consuming dark tourism may allow the individual a sense of meaning and understanding of past disaster and macabre events that have perturbed life projects” [ 2 ]. Tourists’ interest in places associated with death and tragedy may also be related to educational goals [ 9 ].
Curiosity and the need to learn and understand are entwined. Dark tourism develops curiosity and satisfies the desire for knowledge of past suffering and pain [ 26 ]. Ashworth (2004) and Ashworth and Hartmann [ 27 ] suggested three main reasons for visiting dark sites: curiosity about the unusual, attraction to horror, and a desire for empathy or identification with the victims of atrocity. Yan, Zhang, Zhang, Lu and Guo [ 24 ] refer to the curious type of dark tourist who engages cognitively by learning about the issue. From another perspective, dark tourists may feel motivated by morbid tourism [ 28 ] and show interest in specific macabre exhibitions and museums [ 29 ] and fascination with evil [ 30 ], given the morbid nature of dark tourism [ 31 ]. Other authors present yet other motives: secular pilgrimage; a desire for inner purification; schadenfreude or malicious joy; “ghoulish titillation”; a search for the otherness of death; an interest in personal genealogy and family history; a search for “authentic” places in a commodified world; and a desire to encounter the pure/impure sacred [ 18 ]. Iliev [ 4 ] concludes that although tourists visit places related to death, they may not necessarily be considered dark tourists; as already acknowledged, those sites may not be experienced as “dark” by each visitor. It is, therefore, imperative that the so-called dark tourists are considered as such based on their experience.
2.2. Dark Tourist Personality
Some authors who study dark tourism have tried to relate dark tourist practice with personality characteristics, namely with the dark triad—psychoticism, narcissism, and Machiavellianism [ 16 , 32 , 33 , 34 ]. However, the nature of dark tourism, especially that related to the Holocaust, can be so complex that the personality characteristics that motivate it may be less central, so we decided to study the following characteristics: rumination in sadness, self-hatred, hostility, and psychological vulnerability.
Rumination about sadness includes “repetitive thoughts concerning one’s present distress and the circumstances surrounding the sadness” [ 35 ]. These thoughts are related to the nature of one’s negative affect, are not goal-directed nor lead to plans for solutional action [ 36 ], and are not socially shared while the rumination occurs. Thus, rumination on sadness presents a negative content, “does not facilitate problem resolution, is a solitary activity, and is intrusive if the person is pursuing either self-or situationally imposed task-oriented goals” [ 35 ].
Nolen-Hoeksema and Morrow’s [ 36 ] measure of rumination focuses on ideation, contrary to expression or disclosure, but it also includes disclosing feelings to others and emotional expressiveness as components of rumination. According to Nolen-Hoeksema and Morrow [ 36 ], ruminative responses are different from structured problem-solving because people only think or talk about how “unmotivated, sad, and lethargic they feel” (p. 569). Despite that, Nolen-Hoeksema and Morrow’s [ 36 ] stated that ruminative responses include telling others how badly one feels. Although rumination has negative consequences, disclosure may have positive effects [ 37 ]; also, some forms of emotional expressiveness, a component of disclosure, seem beneficial [ 38 ].
Self-hatred is an “enduring dysfunctional and destructive self-evaluation, characterized by attributions of undesirable and defective qualities, and failure to meet perceived standards and values leading to feelings of inadequacy, incompetency, and worthlessness” [ 39 ]. High self-hatred is related to low self-esteem, shame, self-blame or guilt, and a mental state of agitation, raising an experience of psychological and emotional turmoil [ 39 ].
According to Derogatis and Melisaratos [ 40 ], hostility captures thoughts, feelings, and actions associated with hostile behavior. Although the hostility scale measures perceived levels of expressed hostility rather than actual levels of outwardly expressed hostility, the hostility scale is significantly associated with anger [ 41 ], and high anger is related to outward, uncontrolled, and negative expressions of anger [ 42 ].
Psychological vulnerability is the “individual’s capacity to deal with mechanisms of maintaining emotional strength, in case of a pessimistic point of view, due to the lack of social support” [ 43 ]. Psychological vulnerability is a pattern of cognitive beliefs translating to “a dependence on achievement or external sources of affirmation for one’s sense of self-worth” [ 44 ]. Psychological vulnerability is negatively associated with positive affect, self-efficacy, and social support and positively associated with negative affect, perceived powerlessness, and maladaptive coping behavior [ 43 , 44 ]. Dark tourists are subjects situated in emotionally sensitive spaces [ 45 ] that can trigger their psychological vulnerability.
2.3. Research Questions
Although research on dark tourism has increased in recent years, there are not enough studies exploring if people’s knowledge of this phenomenon and their personality traits lead to distinctive dark tourists’ motivations and behaviors. Taking into account the aforementioned motivations to visit dark tourism places, the present study intends to empirically explore if dark tourists’ personality characteristics and sociodemographic variables impact such motivations and dark tourists’ practices and wellbeing (the latter, measured as a dark tourism practice index, given the diversity of known dark tourism practices). Specifically, our research questions are: Do rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, and psychological vulnerability explain the practices and motivations for dark tourism and thus explain tourist wellbeing? Does knowing what dark tourism is (or not) impact rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, and psychological vulnerability, as well as practices and motivations for dark tourism and tourist wellbeing?
3. Materials and Methods
Given the research questions, the aims of the present study are as follows: (1) to find the sociodemographic differences in touristic practices and motivations for dark tourism according to two groups (those who knew what dark tourism is and those who did not know); (2) to assess the fit of the rumination on the sadness scale, self-hatred scale, hostility scale, psychological vulnerability scale, and tourism wellbeing scale; (3) to determine the differences in rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, psychological vulnerability, and tourism wellbeing according to two groups (those who knew what dark tourism is and those who didn’t know); (4) to find the differences in rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, psychological vulnerability, and tourism wellbeing according to practices and motivations for dark tourism; and (5) to determine variables that contribute to the dark tourism practice index. Accordingly, we hypothesize:
Participants who know what dark tourism is are younger and have more education than those who do not.
Participants who know what dark tourism is are more motivated and visit more places associated with dark tourism than those who do not.
All measures show a good fit for the sample.
Differences in rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, psychological vulnerability, and tourism wellbeing according to two groups (those who knew what dark tourism is and those who did not know) will be found.
Differences in rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, psychological vulnerability, and tourism wellbeing according to practices and motivations for dark tourism will be found.
Gender, age, to know/know not dark tourism, and the motivations of curiosity, need to learn, need to understand, and pleasure will contribute to explaining dark tourism practice.
All procedures followed the Declaration of Helsinki and later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The investigation protocol included informed consent, and confidentiality and anonymity of the data were guaranteed. The research protocol was applied in person to a random sample of participants between 18 October and 17 December 2021. The participants were informed about the study’s purpose and were ensured confidentiality and anonymity of the data; they also signed informed consent. The inclusion criteria consisted of being over 18 years old, Portuguese, and having touristic experiences. The respondents were approached by two researchers and five MSc students on the University’s campuses and within their informal networks, with the questionnaire being self-administered.
The instruments that were not validated for the Portuguese population—the Rumination on Sadness Scale (RSS) and the Self-Hatred Scale (SHS)—were first translated from English to Portuguese by two bilingual translators, one from and another not from the field of psychology. Then, a third bilingual translator from the field of psychology provided a reconciliation of the two translations. Next, a native English speaker not from the psychology field independently performed the reconciled version’s back-translation. Finally, the first translator reviewed the back-translated version of the scale and compared it with the original English version to ensure linguistic and cultural equivalence consistency.
- Sociodemographic questionnaire
The sociodemographic questionnaire included questions related to gender (feminine—0; masculine—1), age, education (no education–0; primary education—1; secondary education—2; higher education—3), marital status (no relationship-single, divorced, separated, widowed–0; in a relationship-boyfriends, married, de facto union—1), and employment status (inactive—unemployed, retired, on sick leave–0; active-student, employee, housewife, caregivers—1).
- Questionnaire about dark tourism’s practices
The questionnaire on dark tourism practices includes a question about knowledge of dark tourism (or not). In addition, it also asked participants about their tourist practices related to dark tourism (Have you ever visited…? cemeteries; holocaust museums; sites of human tragedy; concentration camps; prisons; sites of war; sites of natural disasters; stop to see accidents). All these questions are answered dichotomously (no—0; yes—1).
- Questionnaire about dark tourism´s motivations
This questionnaire includes the presentation of several reasons to visit a dark place: curiosity, the need to learn, the need to see, the need to understand, pleasure, and the need to see morbid things. All these questions are answered dichotomously (no—0; yes—1).
- Rumination on Sadness Scale (RSS)
The Rumination on Sadness Scale, an individual-difference measure of rumination on sadness, was developed by Conway et al. [ 35 ] as an alternative to the Ruminative Responses Scale of the Response Styles Questionnaire (RRRSQ; [ 36 ]). It is a unifactorial scale with 13 items. Higher ratings indicate higher levels of rumination on sadness. Cronbach’s alpha, the internal reliability coefficient, was 0.91 in the original version. Since there is no Portuguese version of this scale, it will be validated in this study.
- Self-Hatred Scale (SHS)
The Self-Hatred Scale was developed by Turnell et al. [ 39 ] to assess individuals’ levels of self-hatred. Since self-hatred is a significant predictor of suicidal ideation, this scale has the potential to be helpful in suicide risk assessment. Higher ratings indicate higher levels of self-hatred. Cronbach’s alpha was 0.95 in the original version. There is no Portuguese version of this scale, so it will also be validated in this study.
- BSI Hostility Scale (HSS)
BSI Hostility Scale (HS) is a subscale of the Brief Symptoms Inventory [BSI; [ 40 ]], whose Portuguese version is from Canavarro [ 46 ]. BSI is a 53-item measure to identify self-reported clinically relevant psychological symptoms in adolescents and adults. The BSI covers nine symptom dimensions: Somatization, Obsession-Compulsion, Interpersonal Sensitivity, Depression, Anxiety, Hostility, Phobic Anxiety, Paranoid Ideation, and Psychoticism; and three global indices of distress: Global Severity Index, Positive Symptom Distress Index, and Positive Symptom Total. The Hostility subscale includes five items, and higher ratings indicate higher levels of hostility. In the original version, the alpha coefficients for the nine dimensions of the scale ranged from 0.64 in the Psychoticism dimension to 0.81 in the Somatization dimension. In the Portuguese version, the alpha coefficients ranged from 0.71 in the Psychoticism dimension to 0.85 in the Depression dimension.
- Psychological Vulnerability Scale (PVS)
The Psychological Vulnerability Scale (PVS) was designed to obtain information about maladaptive cognitive patterns, such as dependence, perfectionism, need for external sources of approval, and generalized negative attributions. The PVS is a six-item scale with higher scores indicating greater psychological vulnerability. In the original version [ 44 ], Cronbach’s α coefficient ranged from 0.71 to 0.87 for different samples; in the Portuguese version [ 47 ], Cronbach’s α coefficient was 0.73.
- Tourism Wellbeing Scale (TWS)
The Tourism Wellbeing Scale (TWS) was developed by [ 48 ] Garcês et al. (2018 [ 49 ]); it aims to evaluate tourism wellbeing in each destination, having been built from positive psychology variables, namely, wellbeing, creativity, optimism, and spirituality. It is a unifactorial scale with eight items. Higher ratings indicate higher levels of tourism wellbeing. Cronbach’s alpha was 0.97 in the original version.
3.3. Data Analysis
Prior to analysis, the normality of items was examined by skewness (SI) and kurtosis (KI) indexes; absolute values of SI less than 3 and KI less than 10 indicate a normal distribution of the data. [ 50 ]. All the instruments were subject to a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) procedure with maximum likelihood estimation (MLE). The model fit evaluation was based on test statistics and approximate fit indexes, following the thresholds presented in Kline [ 50 ]. Thus, a non-significant model chi-square statistic, χ 2 , states that the model fits the data acceptably in the population; the higher the probability related to χ 2 , the closer the fit to the perfect fit. A value of the parsimony-corrected index Steiger–Lind root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) close to 0 represents a good fit; RMSEA ≤ 0.05 may indicate a good fit, but the upper bound of the 90% confidence interval exceeding 0.10 may indicate poor fit; also, this test should be non-significant at the 0.05 level. Values of incremental fit index (IFI), Tucker–Lewis index (TLI), and the Bentler incremental comparative fit index (CFI), close to 1 (0.95 or better), are indicators of best fit; also, the standardized root mean square residual (SRMR), a statistic related to the correlation residuals (SRMR over 0.10 suggests fit problems) was used; the smallest the values, the most parsimonious is the model.
Besides goodness-of-fit index evaluation, model re-specification involved analyzing path estimates, standardized residuals of items, and modification indices for all non-estimated parameters. The modifications indices (MI) provide information about potential cross-loadings and error term correlations not specified in the model and the expected change in the chi-square value for each fixed parameter if it were to be freed. Only modifications theoretically meaningful and MI > 11 were considered. Finally, Cronbach’s alpha coefficients were calculated to ascertain the model’s reliability.
Group differences were analyzed. The independent t-test was applied to compare the means of the two groups. In addition, chi-squared was used to compare distributions’ differences and Mann–Whitney test to compare ordinal data. Three measures of the effect size, Cohen’s d, the eta squared, phi, and rank biserial correlation were used according to the variables’ measurement level; interpretation followed Cohen’s [ 51 ] guidelines; the statistical significance level was set at 0.05. Statistical analysis was performed using SPSS version 28 and AMOS version 28.
The sample includes 993 participants, mainly female, in a romantic relationship, with secondary or university education, and active; the mean age is around 31 years. Statistically significant differences were found concerning age and education between the sample that had already heard about dark tourism and knew what it was and the sample that had not yet heard about it. Participants who had heard about dark tourism were significantly younger and more educated than those who had not ( Table 1 ).
Sample sociodemographic characteristics.
Notes: N = frequencies; % = percentage; M = mean; SD = standard deviation; χ 2 = qui-squared test; Φ = Phi size effect; t = t -test; Cohen’s d = size effect; p = p -value. In bold: statistically significant values.
Concerning the total sample and dark tourism practices, most people have visited cemeteries, and about a third of the sample stopped to see accidents. On the other hand, about a quarter of the sample already had other practices, except for a visit to concentration camps, which was only carried out by about 14% of the total sample. The same trend remains in the sample that has not yet heard about dark tourism and the sample that has. However, there are statistically significant differences between these two samples regarding practices related to dark tourism, being that the sample that has already heard about dark tourism visits many more Holocaust museums, sites of human tragedy, concentration camps, prisons, and sites of natural disasters than the sample that has not yet heard about dark tourism ( Table 2 ).
Dark tourism practices.
Notes: N = frequencies; % = percentage; χ 2 = qui-squared test; Φ = Phi size effect; p = p -value. In bold: statistically significant values.
As for the reasons behind the desire to visit dark places, curiosity stands out in the total sample, with the least chosen reason being the need to see morbid things. The same trend can be seen in the two subsamples. However, there are statistically significant differences between these two samples regarding motives to visit dark places, being that the sample that has already heard about dark tourism presents higher values in the motives related to curiosity, the need to learn and understand, and the need to see morbid things than the sample that has not yet heard about dark tourism ( Table 3 ).
Dark tourism motives.
Table 4 shows the descriptive statistics related to the items of the instruments used in this study: the rumination on sadness, tourism wellbeing, self-hatred, hostility, and psychological vulnerability. The skewness and kurtosis values are all within the normative values, ensuring the normality of the distribution, except for item SHS3 whose values are slightly above the recommended one.
A confirmatory factorial analysis of the rumination on sadness scale was carried out to confirm the authors’ model [χ 2 (46) = 4.121; CFI = 0.977; TLI = 0.961; IFI = 0.977; RMSEA = 0.056; PCLOSE = 0.107: SMRM = 0.028]; however, to achieve this model fit, some correlations between errors were established ( Figure 1 ).
Model fit of Rumination on Sadness Scale.
Confirmatory factorial analysis of the self-hatred scale [χ 2 (11) = 5.118; CFI = 0.992; TLI = 0.984; IFI = 0.992; RMSEA = 0.064; PCLOSE = 0.069: SMRM = 0.015] ( Figure 2 ), hostility scale [χ 2 (2) = 4.216; CFI = 0.995; TLI = 0.976; IFI = 0.995; RMSEA = 0.057; PCLOSE = 0.317: SMRM = 0.012] ( Figure 3 ), psychological vulnerability scale [χ 2 (7) = 2.886; CFI = 0.992; TLI = 0.983; IFI = 0.992; RMSEA = 0.044; PCLOSE = 0.644; SMRM = 0.018] ( Figure 4 ), and tourism wellbeing scale [χ 2 (16) = 3.787; CFI = 0.979; TLI = 0.964; IFI = 0.980; RMSEA = 0.053; PCLOSE = 0.339: SMRM = 0.029] ( Figure 5 ) were carried out to assess the models’ adjustments. Despite finding good fits for all models, some correlations between errors were established to achieve such fits. Thus, hypothesis H3 is confirmed.
Model fit of Self-hatred Scale.
Model fit of Hostility Scale.
Model fit of Psychological Vulnerability Scale.
Model fit of Tourism Wellbeing Scale.
There are no differences in the values of rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, psychological vulnerability, and tourism wellbeing concerning knowing what dark tourism is or not ( Table 5 ).
Rumination on sadness (RSS), self-hatred (SHS), hostility (HSS), psychological vulnerability (PVS), and tourism wellbeing (TWBS) frequencies and differences between those who know dark tourism and those who do not.
Notes: α = Cronbach’s alpha; M = mean; SD = standard deviation; MR–mean rank; U = Mann–Whitney test; p = p -value; r = rank-biserial correlation.
Differences were assessed regarding the values of rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, psychological vulnerability, and tourism wellbeing according to dark tourism practices. Being that only statistically significant results are presented, it was found that participants who visit cemeteries have significantly lower values of self-hatred and psychological vulnerability than participants who report not visiting cemeteries ( Table 6 ). Furthermore, those who visit tragic human sites present higher values in hostility and tourism wellbeing than those who do not. Those who visit sites of war present higher values in self-hatred than those who did not. Those who visit site of natural tragedies also present higher values in hostility and tourism wellbeing. Lastly, those who stop to see accidents present higher values in rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, psychological vulnerability, and tourism wellbeing than those who do not stop ( Table 6 ).
Rumination on sadness (RSS), self-hatred (SHS), hostility (HSS), psychological vulnerability (PVS) and tourism wellbeing (TWBS) frequencies and differences according to dark tourism practices.
Notes: α = Cronbach’s alpha; M = mean; SD = standard deviation; MR–mean rank; U = Mann–Whitney test; p = p -value; r = rank-biserial correlation. In bold: statistically significant values.
Differences were also assessed concerning the values of rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, psychological vulnerability, and tourism wellbeing according to dark tourism motives. Those participants who identified curiosity, need to see, and need to understand as reasons to visit dark places in the context of tourism presented higher values in rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, psychological vulnerability, and tourism wellbeing than those who did not identify curiosity as a motive ( Table 7 ). Concerning the motive “need to learn”, it was found to be a statistically significant difference in tourism wellbeing, being that those who identified the need to learn as a motive to visit dark places in the context of tourism present higher values in tourism wellbeing and self-hatred than those who did not. Those participants who identified the need to see as a reason to visit dark places in the context of tourism presented higher values in rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, and psychological vulnerability than those who did not identify the need to see as a motive ( Table 7 ). Those participants who recognized the need to understand as a reason to visit dark places in the context of tourism present higher values in rumination on sadness, hostility, psychological vulnerability, and tourism wellbeing than those who did not identify the need to understand as a motive ( Table 7 ). Concerning the motive “pleasure”, it was found a statistically significant difference in tourism wellbeing; those who recognized pleasure as a motive to visit dark places presented higher values in tourism wellbeing than those who did not. Lastly, those participants who identified the need to see morbid things as a reason to visit dark places presented higher values in rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, and psychological vulnerability than those who did not identify the need to see morbid things as a motive ( Table 7 ).
Rumination on sadness (RSS), self-hatred (SHS), hostility (HSS), psychological vulnerability (PVS), and tourism wellbeing (TWBS) frequencies and differences according to dark tourism motives.
After creating a new variable, an index about practices related to dark tourism, based on the individual items, we carried out a multiple linear regression in which the dependent variable is the index, and the independent variables are the motivations, with the intent to find the variables that explain the touristic practice. It was found that gender, age, know/know not dark tourism, and motives (curiosity, need to learn, need to understand, and pleasure) explain 38% of the touristic practice ( Table 8 ).
Variables that contribute to the dark tourism practice index.
Notes: R 2 = R squared; R 2 Adj. = R squared adjusted; B = unstandardized regression coefficients; EP B = unstandardized error of B; β = standardized regression coefficients; ** p < 0.001.
The aims of the present study were to find the sociodemographic differences in touristic practices and motivations for dark tourism according to two groups (those who knew what dark tourism is and those who did not know); to determine the differences in rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, psychological vulnerability, and tourism wellbeing according to two groups; to find the differences in rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, psychological vulnerability, and tourism wellbeing according to practices and motivations for dark tourism; and, at last, to determine variables that contribute to a dark tourism practice index. To this end, we carried out a cross-sectional study that included questionnaires related to sociodemographic aspects, motivations to visit dark tourism places, practices of dark tourism, the rumination on the sadness scale, the self-hatred scale, the hostility scale, the psychological vulnerability scale, and the tourism wellbeing scale.
Concerning the participants’ profiles, those who had heard about dark tourism were significantly younger and more educated than those who had not. These results confirm hypothesis H1. These results corroborate those of Millán, et al. [ 52 ] who found a profile of dark tourists in Cordoba between 26 and 40 years old and having university studies. Dark tourism is a niche market [ 53 ] and also is itself a trend [ 54 ], and young people are more available and attentive to new trends [ 55 ]. In addition, more educated people seek more information and have superior technological skills [ 56 ]. Significant differences between the two samples regarding practices related to dark tourism were found, being that the sample that has already heard about dark tourism visits much more Holocaust museums, sites of human tragedy, concentration camps, prisons, and sites of natural disasters than the sample that has not yet heard about dark tourism. These results confirm hypothesis H2. According to Iliev [ 4 ], “if tourists do not experience a site as dark, then they cannot be called dark tourists”, so the author proposed a more apparent distinction of the “dark tourists” based on experience. Ashworth and Isaac (2015) also stated that any tourist site has a greater or lesser potential of being perceived as “dark.” Besides, “darkness cannot be viewed as an objective fact because it is subjectively and socially constructed since (different) people in various (cultural or social) contexts understand and experience dark tourism in different ways” [ 57 ]. In fact, we may ask “who makes the association of ‘darkness’ to a place? Is the label ‘dark tourism’ applied by those offering (and commoditizing) the visitor experience? Alternatively, is any “dark” significance to be evaluated and decided upon by the tourists themselves?” [ 58 ]. “Dark tourism consumption can no longer be derived as an ordinary activity where humans might engage in for “fun”, but rather as part of a quest for a deeper experience, especially in our inherent fear of death” [ 4 ].
The subsample that has already heard about dark tourism presents higher values in the curiosity, the need to learn and understand, and the need to see morbid things motives than the sample that has not yet heard about dark tourism. These results also confirm hypothesis H2. In fact, dark tourists are very interested in understanding historical events; they are psychologically moved by the need to be in contact with authentic experiences by looking at the other’s death as if it were their own death [ 59 ]. One of the motivations that drive dark tourists is the possibility of re-creating the same emotions victims experienced, followed by the authenticity issue [ 60 ]. “Many dark tourists are motivated by the desire and interest in cultural heritage, learning, education, understanding about what happened at the dark site” [ 4 ].
There are no differences in the values of rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, psychological vulnerability, and tourism wellbeing concerning knowing what dark tourism is or not. Therefore, hypothesis H4 cannot be confirmed. These results apparently seem to contradict the relationship between the dark triad of the personality (narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy) and the practice of dark tourism [ 16 , 32 , 33 , 34 ]. That relationship, studied by those authors, reflects the practice of dark tourism and not the knowledge about it (which is the subject of our study), although there is hardly any knowledge without practice. Concerning tourism wellbeing, these results may question Kidron [ 61 ] who said that dark tourism generates wellbeing and thus assume that dark tourists show wellbeing despite dark practices. However, our results do not show greater wellbeing in the participants who knew in advance what dark tourism was in relation to the others.
Participants who visit cemeteries have significantly lower values of self-hatred and psychological vulnerability than participants who report not visiting cemeteries. Visiting a cemetery can fulfill different functions, such as visiting a dark place or the social and cultural function of honoring the dead. Probably, our results reflect this last function to the detriment of the first and this conformity to cultural and social practices is in accordance with lower values of psychopathology [ 62 ], namely rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, and psychological vulnerability. This result partially confirms hypothesis 5.
Those who visit sites of war present higher levels of self-hatred than those who did not. Furthermore, those who visit natural tragedies sites present higher values in hostility and tourism wellbeing than those who do not. This result reflects the relationship of this tourist practice with the above-mentioned dark triad [ 16 , 32 , 33 , 34 ] and is in line with Kidron [ 61 ], who suggested wellbeing in dark tourists. At last, those who stop to see accidents present higher values in rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, psychological vulnerability, and tourism wellbeing than those who do not stop. Again, this result reveals the relationship between psychopathology and tourist wellbeing that needs to be further explained, although some authors suggest that psychopathology leads to less tourism wellbeing [ 63 ]. This result partially confirms hypothesis 5.
Participants who identified curiosity as a reason to visit dark places in the context of tourism presented higher values in rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, psychological vulnerability, and tourism wellbeing than those who did not identify curiosity as a motive. Curiosity has been a central reason pointed out in the literature for tourism in general [ 64 ] and, specifically, for dark tourism [ 15 , 17 , 19 , 20 , 21 , 65 , 66 ]. Curiosity is a complex construct, which can be seen as something positive, but it can also contain darker aspects of the personality, namely morbid curiosity, and this fact explains its relationship with, on the one hand, wellbeing, and, on the other hand, with rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, and psychological vulnerability. This result partially confirms hypothesis 5.
The participants who identified the need to learn, the need to understand as motives to visit dark places in the context of tourism present higher values in tourism wellbeing and self-hatred than those who did not. The need to learn and understand are also central reasons for tourism in general and their relationship with wellbeing does not seem specific to dark tourism [ 67 ]. This result partially confirms hypothesis 5.
The participants who identified the need to see as a reason to visit dark places in the context of tourism presented higher values in rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, psychological vulnerability, and tourism wellbeing. This result partially confirms hypothesis 5. Similarly to the need to learn, the need to see correlates with wellbeing but with psychopathology. Perhaps this need to learn motivation is correlated with the touristic practice of seeing morbid things [ 68 ].
The participants who recognized pleasure as a motive to visit dark places presented higher values in tourism wellbeing than those who did not. This result partially confirms hypothesis 5. Dark tourism conforms with the pleasure of tourism in general (Yanjun et al., 2015); wellbeing derives from the emotional experience of dark tourism as a motor for transforming the self [ 69 ].
The participants who identified the need to see morbid things as a drive to visit dark places presented higher values in rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, and psychological vulnerability. The need to see morbid things may be a specific motivation for dark tourism [ 1 , 70 ] and not tourism in general. To that extent, the relationship between this motivation and rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, and psychological vulnerability is justified. This result partially confirms Hypothesis 5.
The reasons to visit dark places-curiosity, the need to see, the need to understand, and pleasure are positively and significantly correlated with all places associated with dark tourism. Gender, age, know/know not dark tourism, and motives (curiosity, the need to learn, the need to understand, and pleasure) explained 38.1% of the practice index variance, thus confirming H6. These results mean that motivations to visit dark places are associated with the touristic activity itself and may contradict those of Buda [ 71 ], that claims more emotional and psychoanalytical explorations through the concepts of the death drive [ 71 ], desire [ 72 ], and unconsciousness and voyeurism [ 73 ]. In fact, dark tourists are not altruistic persons [ 14 , 60 ]. Moreover, Jovanovic, Mijatov, and Šuligoj [ 32 ] found that Machiavellianism was related to the preference for dark exhibitions, psychopathy to the preference for visiting conflict/battle sites, and sadism was negatively related to the preference for fun factories and dark tourism sites. However, the “darker” motivation may present different levels of intensity; besides the fascination and interest in death [ 15 ], these visits are also motivated by personal, cultural, and psychological reasons [ 4 ] and/or by entertainment purposes such as entertainment-based museums of torture [ 7 , 16 ]. One of the most curious outcomes of this study is the association of motivations to visit dark tourist sites and self-hatred; the fact that the authors have not found any study that could explain such a result suggests this association exists in the context of dark tourism and not of tourism in general. The dark nature of this type of tourism can be attractive to tourists with less positive personality traits such as self-hatred.
The results of this study add new knowledge to this area of expertise as it allows us to understand the association between motivations and practices related to dark tourism. This study also identified the main motivations to visit dark places-curiosity, the need to see, the need to understand, and pleasure, being, interestingly, all internal motivations and, thus, contradicting the literature that, in addition to these motivations, also identifies external motivations. Most findings also indicate that the rumination on sadness, self-hatred, hostility, and psychological vulnerability personality dimensions are associated with dark practices (e.g., the need to see morbid things). Lastly, people who visit more dark places and score higher on negative personality characteristics have higher values of tourism wellbeing. These findings are in line with the literature, which suggests that dark tourism generates negative and positive wellbeing (or even ambivalence). As such, dark tourists, even presenting negative personality characteristics, and also because of them, show tourism wellbeing in their practices and motivations.
The fact that this study was held in a specific sample in Portugal may be considered a limitation; future lines of research could extend it to other countries and age segments.
This research received no external funding.
Conceptualization, J.M., J.A.F.-B. and Â.L.; methodology, J.M.; formal analysis, J.M. and Â.L.; writing—original draft preparation, J.M.; writing—review and editing, J.M., J.A.F.-B. and Â.L. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.
Institutional Review Board Statement
Ethical review and approval were waived for this study, as no medical research involving human subjects has been carried out, including research on identifiable human material and data, as indicated by the terms of the Declaration of Helsinki.
Informed Consent Statement
Informed consent was obtained from all subjects involved in the study.
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of interest.
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Dark tourism: motivations and visit intentions of tourists
International Hospitality Review
ISSN : 2516-8142
Article publication date: 8 July 2021
Issue publication date: 14 June 2022
The overall purpose of this study is to utilize the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) in combination with four dark tourism constructs (dark experience, engaging entertainment, unique learning experience, and casual interest) to gain a better understanding of behaviors and intentions of tourists who have visited or plan to visit a dark tourism location.
A total of 1,068 useable questionnaires was collected via Qualtrics Panels for analysis purposes. Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) was used to verify satisfactory reliability and validity regarding the measurement of model fit. With adequate model fit, structural equation modeling was employed to determine positive and negative relationships between TPB and dark tourism constructs. In all, 11 hypotheses statements were tested within this study.
Results of this study indicate that tourists are curious, interested, and intrigued by dark experiences with paranormal activity, resulting in travel choices made for themselves based on personal beliefs and preferences, with minimal outside influence from others. It was determined that dark experience was the most influential of the dark tourism constructs tested in relationship to attitudes and subjective norm.
The data collected for this study were collected using Qualtrics Panels with self-reporting participants. The actual destination visited by survey participants was also not factored into the results of this research study.
This study provides a new theoretical research model that merges TPB and dark tourism constructs and established that there is a relationship between TPB constructs and dark tourism.
- Theory of planned behaviour
Lewis, H. , Schrier, T. and Xu, S. (2022), "Dark tourism: motivations and visit intentions of tourists", International Hospitality Review , Vol. 36 No. 1, pp. 107-123. https://doi.org/10.1108/IHR-01-2021-0004
Emerald Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2021, Heather Lewis, Thomas Schrier and Shuangyu Xu
Published in International Hospitality Review . Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at http://creativecommons.org/licences/by/4.0/legalcode
Dark tourism is defined as the act of tourists traveling to sites of death, tragedy, and suffering ( Foley and Lennon, 1996 ). This past decade marks a significant growth of dark tourism with increasing number of dark tourists ( Lennon and Foley, 2000 ; Martini and Buda, 2018 ). More than 2.1 million tourists visited Auschwitz Memorial in 2018 (visitor numbers, 2019), and 3.2 million tourists visited the Ground Zero 9/11 Memorial annually (a year in review, 2017). Despite of the increasing popularity, there is still limited understanding of dark tourism as a multi-faceted phenomenon ( Biran et al. , 2011 ) . Some research has looked into the motivations and experience of dark tourists ( Poria et al. , 2004 ; Poria et al. , 2006 ). However, most were based on conceptual frameworks and arguments with little empirical data, even less have examined tourist visit intentions to dark tourism sites ( Zhang et al. , 2016 ), let alone the association between dark tourists' motivations and visit intentions. Many scholars suggested the pressing needs for empirical research into dark tourism from tourist perspectives to understand their motivations and experiences ( Seaton and Lennon, 2004 ; Sharpley and Stone, 2009 ; Zhang et al. , 2016 ). Of the limited empirical dark tourism studies, most were case studies with historical battlefields and concentration camps being the hot spots ( Le and Pearce, 2011 ; Lennon and Foley, 1999 ; Miles, 2002 ). Still, a comprehensive understanding of dark tourists' motivations and their intentions to visit is lacking.
As such, this study was conducted to understand both the motivations and visit intentions of tourists to dark tourism destinations. Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) constructs ( attitudes, subjective norm, perceived behavioral control) and the four dark tourism dimensions (i.e. dark experience, engaging entertainment, unique learning experience, and casual interest ) were utilized to address the following objectives: (1) examine the motivations of dark tourists; (2) investigate the intentions of the dark tourists to visit a dark tourism destination in the next 12 months; and (3) explore the association between the motivations and visit intentions of dark tourists. The dark tourism dimensions utilized for this study were adapted supported by previous dark tourism studies ( Biran et al. , 2014 ; Bissell, 2009 ; Lam and Hsu, 2006 ; Molle and Bader, 2014 ). While many studies have utilized TPB in the past, this study will utilize the TPB to focus attention on why travelers are motivated to visit dark tourism locations specifically.
Travels associated with death dates back for centuries ( Dale and Robinson, 2011 ). Early examples of dark tourism include Roman gladiator games, guided tours to watch hangings in England, and pilgrimages to medieval executions ( Stone, 2006 ). Even today, many tourists are fascinated with and thus visited sites of death and tragedy such as the John F. Kennedy's death site in Dallas, Texas, and the Ground Zero 9/11 Memorial in New York ( Foley and Lennon, 1996 ; Strange and Kempa, 2003 ). Abandoned prisons and sites of punishment and incarcerations are also popular attractions among dark tourists (e.g., Pentridge in Melbourne, Australia; Foley and Lennon, 1996 ). However, the term dark tourism did not get introduced to the research community until 1996 which ignited many later research efforts on this topic ( Light, 2017 ).
Dark tourism is defined as the act of tourists traveling to sites of death, tragedy, and suffering ( Foley and Lennon, 1996 ). Many scholars also came up with other terms and labels to describe such phenomenon including thanatourism ( Seaton, 1996 ), disaster tourism ( Rojek, 1993 ), black spot tourism ( Rojek, 1993 ), morbid tourism ( Blom, 2000 ) and even phoenix tourism ( Powell et al. , 2018 ). Mowatt and Chancellor (2011) suggested that despite of different names, at the heart of the concept is travel to places of death that are often linked to violence ( Robb, 2009 ). Many researchers use the term dark tourism and thanatourism interchangeably, while more tend to use dark tourism as an umbrella term for any form of tourism that is somehow related to death, suffering, atrocity, tragedy or crime ( Light, 2017 ). Given the standard use of the term dark tourism in the practice and scholarship of tourism, such a term will be used throughout this manuscript.
Dark tourism research in this past two decades mainly covers six themes including the discussion on definition, concepts, and typologies; the associated ethical issues; the political and ideological dimensions; the nature of demand for dark tourism locations; site management; and the methods used for research ( Light, 2017 ). The area of terminology and definitions undoubtedly dominates in the dark tourism literature ( Zhang et al. , 2016 ). While in the area of exploring the nature of demand for dark tourism locations, the relatively limited research concentrated in four aspects – both the motivations and experiences of dark tourists, the relationship between visiting and sense of identity, and new approaches to theorizing the consumption of dark tourism ( Light, 2017 ).
Research addressing dark tourists' motivations were relatively slow. Many early studies simply postulate and propose tourists' motivations to visit dark tourism sites, with a lack of empirical research to support ( Light, 2017 ). As such, many studies in the past decade examined dark tourists' motivations through different case studies, with concentration camps or historical battlefields being the hot spots ( Lennon and Foley, 1999 ; Miles, 2002 ). Research reveals that tourists visit dark tourism destinations for a wide variety of reasons, such as curiosity ( Biran et al. , 2014 ; Isaac and Cakmak, 2014 ), desire for education and learning about what happened at the site ( Kamber et al. , 2016 ; Yan et al. , 2016 ), interest in history or death ( Yankholmes and McKercher, 2015 ; Raine, 2013 ), connecting with one's personal or family heritage ( Mowatt and Chancellor, 2011 ; Le and Pearce, 2011 ). Drawing from literature, four common themes (i.e. dark experience, engaging entertainment, unique learning experience, casual interest) emerged, served as the foundational pillars for this study, and were discussed below.
The motivation construct
Raine's (2013) dark tourist spectrum study of tourists visiting burial grounds and graveyards concluded that mourners and pilgrims had personal and spiritual connections to the different sites being studied. Mourners visited specific gravesites and usually would perform meditations for the dead. Pilgrims had a personal connection to specific burial sites in some way, whether it is a religious connection to the individual or they served as a personal hero ( Raine, 2013 ). Death rites are often performed as a ritual not necessarily to mark the passing of the deceased but rather to heal the wounds of families, communities, societies, and/or nations by the deceased's passing ( Bowman and Pezzullo, 2009 ).
Additionally, Raine's (2013) study discovered another subset of tourists—the morbidly curious and thrill seekers. Those classified as morbidly curious or thrill seekers were visiting burial sites to confront and experience death. Whether a mourner or pilgrim or the morbidly curious thrill seeker, the tourists had a strong connection to the dead they were there to visit which could categorize them as seeking a dark experience.
To take dark tourism to the extreme, Miller and Gonzalez (2013) completed a study on death tourism. Death tourism occurs when individuals travel to a location to end their lives, often through a means of assisted medical suicide. It was determined that this is still a taboo topic for some countries where it is not legalized, however it is gaining more publicity. It was determined that death tourism is typically the result of one of four reasons; the primary reason death tourism is planned is because of assisted suicide being illegal in the traveler's home country ( Miller and Gonzalez, 2013 ). While death tourism does not directly apply to this particular study, it is an offspring of dark tourism and is a tourist activity that is related to dark experience.
Dark Experience will have a positive relationship with Attitudes
Dark Experience will have a positive relationship with Subjective Norm
Engaging Entertainment will have a positive relationship with Attitudes
Engaging Entertainment will have a positive relationship with Subjective Norm
Unique learning experience
Unique Learning Experience will have a positive relationship with Attitudes
Unique Learning Experience will have a positive relationship with Subjective Norm
Casual Interest will have a positive relationship with Attitudes
Casual Interest will have a positive relationship with Subjective Norm
The Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB)
Behavioral intention, defined as an individual's anticipated or planned future behavior ( Swan, 1981 ), has been suggested as a central factor that correlates strongly with observed behavior ( Baloglu, 2000 ). Many believed that intentions serve as an immediate antecedent to actual behavior ( Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975 ; Konu and Laukkanen, 2010 ). Fishbein and Ajzen developed the Theory of planned behavior (TPB) base on three constructs: attitude, subjective norm and perceived behavioral control. The Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) has been widely used in tourism research ( Ajzen and Driver, 1992 ; Han et al. , 2010 ; Han and Kim, 2010 ; Lam and Hsu, 2004 , 2006 ). TPB suggests that individuals are more likely to engage in behaviors that are believed to be achievable ( Armitage and Conner, 2001 ). Ajzen (1991) suggested that attitude, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control are important to predict intention. Perceived behavioral control is what influences the tourists' intentions and their perception of their ability to perform a specific behavior.
Lam and Hsu (2004) utilized the TPB to examine motivations of travelers from mainland China to Hong Kong and found that attitude, perceived behavioral control, and past behaviors were directly related to travel intentions. In another study examining the visit intentions of Taiwanese travelers to Hong Kong, Lam and Hsu (2006) found that a positive association between visit frequency and re-visit intention.
Cheng et al. (2006) used the TPB to examine the negative word-of-mouth communication on visit intentions of Chinese consumers to high-class Chinese restaurants. It was determined from their study that the TPB constructs were positively impacted by negative word-of-mouth indicating that the TPB effectively measured consumer communication intention. Similarly, Han and Kim (2010) modified the TPB in the investigation of customers' intention to revisit environmentally friendly hotels and found that past behavior was a significant predictor of intention–the more customers stay at a green hotel, the more likely they intend to revisit. It can be concluded from previous research efforts that the TPB can be utilized to effectively measure behavioral intentions of tourists successfully.
Motivation and intentions
Attitudes will have a positive relationship with Intention
Subjective Norm will have a negative relationship with Intention
Perceived Behavioral Control will have a positive relationship with Intention
A survey questionnaire was developed to collect information on the socio-demographic background, motivation construct, and planned behavior construct from tourists. Socio-demographic data queried were age in years (continuous), gender (3 categories, male, female and prefer not to answer), level of education (9 categories, from less than high school degree to doctoral degree), marital status (5 categories, from single to widow/widower), personal annual income (12 categories, from less than $20,000 to more than $200,000). Tourists' home residence state and country were also collected.
A dark tourism motivation construct was developed based on previous studies ( Biran et al. , 2014 ; Bissell, 2009 ; Lam and Hsu, 2006 ; Molle and Bader, 2014 ), and used to query previous visit and potential visit separately using a five-point Likert scale (“1 = extremely unimportant”; “5 = extremely important”). This motivation construct consists of 33 item statements from four dimensions ( Table 1 ) which include engaging entertainment, dark experience , unique learning experience , and casual interest . Dark experience consisted of nine statements, related to death, fascination with abnormal and/or bizarre events and destinations, and emotional experiences with a connection to death (e.g., “to travel”, “to have some entertainment”). Engaging entertainment was measured using ten statements that inquire about the personal or emotional connection to the destination they have visited or wish to visit in the future (e.g., “to witness the act of death and dying”, “to experience paranormal activity”). Unique learning experience focused on learning about the history of the destination being visited or trying something that is different and out of the ordinary (eight items, e.g., “to try something new”, “to increase knowledge”). Casual interest focuses on individuals who want to visit a dark tourism destination for the entertainment value but want to have a relaxing time while doing so (six items, “special tour promotions”, “natural scenery”).
The planned behavior construct queried on four dimensions (i.e., attitudes , subjective norms , perceived behavioral control , and behavioral intentions ) associated with visiting dark tourism destinations, with a total of 16 item statements ( Table 2 ). Five item statements were used to measure dark tourists' attitudes (e.g., “visiting a dark tourism destination is enjoyable”, “visiting a dark tourism destination is pleasant”) and behavioral intentions (e.g., “I will visit a dark tourism destination in the next 12 months”, “I would revisit the most recent dark tourism destination I visited again in the future”) respectively, using a five-point Likert scale (“1 = Strongly disagree”; “5 = Strongly agree”). Dark tourists' perceived behavioral control was measured by three item statements (e.g., “I am in control of whether or not I visit a dark tourism destination”, “If wanted, I could easily afford to visit a dark tourism destination”), using the same five-point Likert scale (“1 = Strongly disagree”; “5 = Strongly agree”). For subjective norms dimension, each of the three item statements was measured by a different five-point Likert scale. The statement that “most people I know would choose a dark tourism destination for vacation purposes” uses the scale in which “1 = strongly disagree”, “5 = strongly agree”. One item statement asks individuals to rate on whether “people who are important to me think I ____ choose a dark tourism destination to visit” “1 = definitely should not”, “5 = definitely should”). Another statement asks individuals to rate whether “people who are important to me would ___ of my visit to a dark tourism destination” “1 = definitely disapprove”, “5 = definitely approve”).
Sampling and procedure
To increase the reliability and validity of the survey, a pilot study was conducted. A small group of industry professionals from all over the country currently working at dark tourism destinations and other academic researchers were invited to critique the initial draft of the survey. Forty-one individuals took the survey instrument and provided feedback (e.g., some wording issues). After revisions from the pilot study were completed, the survey was launched, and data was collected.
Qualtrics, a web-based survey software company with access to an electronic database of survey candidates, was used to administer this questionnaire to participants. A total of 44,270 invitations were randomly sent to Qualtrics panel participants requesting participation in this study. Qualification of participants was completed by requesting all survey recipients answer the following questions: (1) Have you visited a dark tourism location within the past 24 months? and (2) Do you plan to visit a dark tourism location within the next 12 months? A statement was provided to all participants explaining what consisted of a dark tourism location to ensure participants were not taking the survey based on experiences of activities like haunted houses or haunted hayrides. Only 3,907 individuals were eligible to complete the survey, and a total of 1,068 participants did complete the survey, which yields a response rate of 27.3%. Altogether 651 out of 1,068 individuals had previously visited a dark tourism destination within the last 24 months while the remaining 417 individuals plan to visit a dark tourism destination within the next 12 months.
Data analysis included descriptive statistics, reliability tests, confirmatory factor analysis (CFA), and structural equation modeling (SEM). Descriptive statistics were used to outline respondents' characteristics (e.g., demographic composition). CFA was utilized to evaluate the measurement model, demonstrate adequate model fit, and ensure satisfactory levels of reliability and validity of underlying variables and their respective factors. Factor loadings greater than 0.70 indicated that the constructs are appropriately represented and considered acceptable ( Hair et al. , 2010 ). Cronbach's alphas were computed to test the internal reliability of items comprising each dimension of the dark tourism motivation construct ( dark experience , engaging entertainment , unique learning experience , casual interest ) and the planned behavior construct ( attitudes , subjective norm , perceived behavioral control ), respectively. A cutoff value of 0.7 was utilized to determine “good” reliability ( Peterson, 1994 , p. 381).
To confirm measurement model validity, the chi-squared ( x 2 ) statistic, Root-Mean-Square-Error of Approximation (RMSEA), Comparative Fit Index (CFI), and the Standardized Root Mean Square Residual (SRMR) values were reviewed. Cutoff criteria used to determine “good fit” were RMSEA score < 0.08 ( Byrne, 1998 ), CFI scores > 0.90 ( Kline, 2005 ), SRMR < 0.08 to indicate a good fit ( Hu and Bentler, 1999 ).
Overwhelmingly, many tourists who had either visited a dark tourism location or plan to visit a dark tourism destination were female (65.4%). Additionally, the majority of participants were 25–34 years of age (44.2%) with the next largest age groups being 35–44 years (21%) and 18–24 years (20.9%). Most had either a 4-years Bachelor's degree from college (30.5%) or at least some college education but did not finish their degree (25.3%). 54.5% of the survey participants were married and 37.6% were single. As for income, the largest percentage (19.5%) had an individual annual income ranging from $20,001-$40,000. A full table of demographic characteristics of the participants can be seen in Table 3 .
Partial disaggregation of measurement model
SEM was utilized to investigate the relationships among dark tourism construct, the planned behavior construct and behavioral intentions. Like the CFA testing, the SEM also uses the chi-squared ( x 2 ) , RMSEA, SRMR, and CFI to determine overall model fit and relationships for this study. After further testing for convergent and discriminant validity, it was determined that all constructs met the composite reliability 0.70 or greater standard regarding the 3-parcel hypothesized model ( Table 4 ) ( Hair et al. , 2010 ).
There are several ways to parcel variables into groupings. For purposes of this study, the variables were parceled using the item-to-construct method since the SEM model was large in size and the goal was to have parcels balanced in terms of difficulty and discrimination ( Little et al. , 2002 ). To develop the parcels, standardized regression weights were evaluated, and the three highest scores served as anchors to each of the three parcels with the highest values associated to parcel 1, next highest to parcel 2, and then the next highest to parcel 3. The remainder of variables were placed into the parcels continuing with the 4th highest value placed into the 3rd parcel and repeating the process in inverted order until all variables were assigned into parcels. Once the variables for each construct were placed into appropriate parcel groupings, averages of the questions associated to the new parceled variables were calculated prior to the CFA and SEM analysis. The attitude and behavioral intention constructs had five variable questions, while subjective norm and perceived behavioral control only had three questions. In those situations, one individual variable question served as the parcel item. Table 2 shows the variables and the parcels in which they were grouped.
Additionally, the average variance extracted was calculated and proved to be less than the composite reliability for each construct indicating convergent reliability of the constructs. The average variance extracted was greater than the 0.50 standard for Dark Experience, Engaging Entertainment, Unique Learning Experience, Attitude, and Subjective Norm constructs. Behavioral Intention (0.49) and Casual Interest (0.48) had values that were borderline acceptable regarding convergent validity. The only construct that did not meet the standards of convergent validity testing was Perceived Behavioral Control (0.23). When testing for divergent validity, all square-root of average variance extracted calculations were greater than the inter-construct correlations indicating divergent validity was present in this study. Partial disaggregation of the variables resulted in a much stronger overall model fit. The RMSEA value was 0.08 indicating a strong model fit and the CFI (0.891) value was acceptable indicating a good model fit. The SRMR value (0.06, Table 4 ) also showed a strong model fit.
Overall, most of the relationships between the dark tourism construct and the TPB constructs were significant. Results show that dark experience has a positive significant relationship with both attitudes (0.434) regarding tourists visiting a dark tourism destination and subjective norms (0.242, Table 5 ). Casual interest has a positive significant relationship with both attitudes (0.404) and subjective norm (0.330). Both engaging entertainment (−0.080; −0.217) and unique learning experience (0.152; −0.247) are not significantly associated with neither attitudes nor subjective norms . Results show that both attitudes (0.396) and perceived behavioral control (0.716) have a significant positive relationship with behavioral intention .
SEM testing was completed on the data. In addition to the significant and insignificant relationships indicated by the SEM testing, to answer some of the specific research questions asked by this study one must review the distinct question factor loadings to get those answers. A full set of the factor loadings of survey questions asked regarding dark tourism and TPB constructs are in Table 1 . A visualization of all hypothesis testing results is in Table 5 as well as on Figure 1 .
It can be concluded from the findings of this research that dark experience has a positive relationship with attitudes regarding tourists visiting a dark tourism location, indicating that Hypothesis 1 was fully supported. Tourists seek specific characteristics when choosing to visit a dark tourism destination. Akin to findings from Bissell (2009) , the reasons for visiting: I want to try something new and out of the ordinary as well as I am fascinated with abnormal and bizarre events were strong. Alone these two variables do not constitute wanting to experience dark tourism but suggest a curiosity about dark tourism and a desire for new experiences ( Seaton and Lennon, 2004 ). Individuals answered favorably to all questions related to interest in experiencing paranormal activity. Although Sharpley (2005) suggested “fascination with death” as a potential motive for tourists to visit dark tourism destinations, questions specifically related to death (i.e., to witness the act of death and dying , to satisfy personal curiosity about how the victims died ) , reveal that fascination with death and dying was not a strong motivating factor for the tourists' who participated in this research study. The positive relationships of dark experience with attitudes ( H1 ) and subjective norm ( H2 ) , respectively, implies that tourists are seeking experiences that satisfy curiosity or they are seeking interaction with the paranormal. Tourists seek a fun and enjoyable tourist experience by visiting dark tourism destinations, and do not feel pressured by societal norms of their friends and family, which may prevent them from visiting dark tourism destinations.
The engaging entertainment dimension regarding both attitude ( H3 ) and subjective ( H4 ) was not supported in this study, which is interesting considering the questions in this dimension were developed to determine the importance of the tourists connecting with the information presented at the destination while still having an enjoyable experience.
Like Raine (2013) , this study considered the unique learning experience dimension to include individuals who are hobbyists and are typically visiting these destinations solely for educational purposes and to not engage with the destination as a dark tourism site. To present an alternative consideration to the construct of unique learning experience, Seaton (1996) determined that the more attached a person was to a destination, the less likely they would be fascinated with death, resulting in the tourists not viewing the dark tourism destination as being “dark”. This thought process may be a possibility of explanation for why the relationships were negative between unique learning experience and the TPB constructs, resulting in both Hypothesis 5 and 6 not being supported. Farmaki (2013) strengthens this argument by determining that many tourists visit museums for the purpose of education, but museums will incorporate the concept of death to enhance the tourist experience.
Results from this study also indicate that participants of this study were not traveling to dark tourism destinations for educational purposes. Additionally, results indicate that individuals who were perhaps traveling for the purposes of unique learning experience had negative feelings or experiences with subjective norms, lending to the belief that their family and friends were not supportive of their choice to visit a dark tourism destination.
Raine (2013) discovered a group of tourists she classified as sightseers and passive recreationalists. These tourists can be themed as “incidental” as they were likely not seeking a dark tourism destination related to death and burials, but instead were looking for a destination to escape from everyday life. These statements can easily be supported by this research study as Hypotheses 7 and 8 were both positively supported in relationship to casual interest and attitudes ( H7 ) and subjective norm ( H8 ). The questions asked in this study specifically relate to value of tours, special promotions, and enjoying time with friends and family.
Individuals were seeking attitudinal experiences through their visits to dark tourism destinations, supporting Hypothesis 9 . Unlike the results from Lam and Hsu (2004) , subjective norms do play a role in behavioral intentions. This study found that the influence of societal norms and pressures do influence tourists' intention to visit dark tourism destinations, lending to Hypothesis 10 not being supported as expected. Regarding perceived behavioral control, when tourists feel capable and in control of their tourism choices, it will positively impact their behavioral intention or likelihood of visiting a dark tourism destination, supporting Hypothesis 11 .
Practitioners working in tourism industries and communities of dark tourism destinations can greatly benefit from the results of this study. Managers of dark tourism destinations must realize that visitors are attracted to these locations for many different reasons ( Bissell, 2009 ) and not just for fascination of death or paranormal activity. While this research does not focus specifically on individual motivating factors that influence behavior to visit, overarching attributes were determined to influence behavioral intentions more than others. The significant positive relationships found in this study between dark experience, unique learning experience, and casual interest suggest dark tourism destination managers offer a variety of tours and services to visitors and should be sensitive in how they display or present information so it does not come across as being offensive to tourists in the event they have strong emotional ties to the destination or individual(s) who may have been a victim at the destination.
Due to the broad nature of this study and its data collection efforts, the dark tourism locations visited by participants varied greatly. It can be concluded from the data that the use of television and contemporary media featuring dark tourism locations does positively influence tourists' behavioral intention to visit. Variables related to dark tourism destinations featured on television shows were more strongly favored in relationship to the dark experience construct than engaging entertainment. This indicates that tourists are curious about what they have seen on television or mass media and want to experience similar. Managers of dark tourism destinations featured on television shows should effectively market their locations as such to increase interest and tourism traffic to their destination. If paranormal tours are not currently being offered this would be a recommendation (if applicable) to generate more tourism interest.
Additionally, due to the increased popularity and reliance on websites and social media platforms for information, practitioners should register their location on dark tourism websites and registries so more curious travelers can easily locate them. Utilizing TripAdvisor.com and other similar travel websites is another option for practitioners to generate tourism interest to their destination. Making information readily available and easy to locate for tourists will continue to strengthen the relationship between perceived behavioral control and behavioral intention. Additionally, considering societal norms had a positive relationship with dark tourism constructs within this study, practitioners could market their destination as being taboo to tourists wanting to satisfy their rebellious curiosity.
Limitations and future research
This study has several limitations. Since the data was collected using Qualtrics Panels, potential participants are asked to self-report and assess whether they are eligible dark tourists for this study, based on given definition of dark tourism. Such self-assessment may not always be precise. If adopting this survey method, future research may consider asking participations to provide the specific dark tourism destination type that they have visited in the past 24 months, to help further confirm their eligibility for study participation. It is also recommended that if time and resources permit, future research consider collecting data on-site at dark tourism destinations. Also, this research study did not take into consideration the type of dark tourism destination visited by the respondents. Dark tourism destinations vary in the levels of violence and death that are associated with them ( Seaton, 1996 ; Stone, 2006 ). Future research can investigate additional motivational factors of tourists to visit dark tourism destinations with varying levels of darkness associated to them.
Most of the previous studies are case studies with historical battlefields and concentration camps being the hot spot for tourist activity. It is important and yet lacking to explore the general pattern of the association between motivations and visit intentions to dark tourism sites in general. Ryan and Kohli (2006) suggested there are differences between dark tourism destinations created by natural disasters (e.g., earthquakes in Sichuan, China; Biran et al. , 2014 ) and those that were sites of death at the hand of man (e.g., Auschwitz concentration camp). Moreover, Zhang et al. (2016) were among the few that explored the associated between motivation and association, but only on college students at one specific site. Although this study is inclusive of different dark tourist groups and dark tourism sites, future research may consider factoring in such difference in dark tourism destinations while exploring dark tourist motivations and visit intensions.
This study serves as exploratory research examining the association between tourist motivations and visit intentions and paves the way for future research in dark tourism. This study contributes to the dark tourism literature by proposing a new theoretical framework linking and extending dark tourism motivation construct with the Planned Behavior Construct. Study results can also benefit practitioners in dark tourism sector.
Graphic representation of theoretical framework and hypothesis testing results
Factor loadings for dark tourism variables
Partial disaggregation parcel groupings of TPB variables
Demographic characteristics of survey participants
CFAs of nested models
Full-data set hypothesis testing results
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