Journal of Tourism Research & HospitalityISSN: 2324-8807

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Research Article, J Tourism Res Hospitality Vol: 0 Issue: 2

Dark Tourism: Concepts, Typologies and Sites

Ana Paula Fonseca*, Claudia Seabra and Carla Silva
Higher School of Technology and Management, Polytechnic Institute of Viseu, Viseu, Portugal
Corresponding author : Ana Paula Fonseca
Higher School of Technology and Management, Polytechnic Institute of Viseu, Viseu, Portugal
Tel: +351232480500
Fax: +351232424651
Received: December 22, 2014 Accepted: February 29, 2015 Published: March 04, 2015
Citation: Fonseca AP, Seabra C, Silva C (2016) Dark Tourism: Concepts, Typologies and Sites. J Tourism Res Hospitality S2-002. doi:10.4172/2324-8807.S2-002


Dark Tourism: Concepts, Typologies and Sites

Dark Tourism, understood as the type of tourism that involves a visit to real or recreated places associated with death, suffering, misfortune, or the seemingly macabre, is not a new concept, even from a touristic point of view. In fact, places of war, disasters, death and atrocities always fascinated humans and are subject to visits. People have long been drawn, purposefully or otherwise, towards sites, attractions or events linked in one way or another with death, suffering, violence or disaster. The concept of dark tourism has been designed and studied for the last years and many are the destinations around the world where it has been implemented, playing an important role in both a country’s economy and its image. However, there is a gap in literature about this specific type of tourism. The main goal of this paper is to present a literature review about this new tourism product where the thrill seeking is the main motivation. Specifically, it’s our intent to present some Dark Tourism definitions, history and evolution, as well as, to introduce its typologies and identify the most important dark tourist sites all over the world.

Keywords: Dark Tourism; Motivations; Supply; Typologies; Sites


Dark Tourism; Motivations; Supply; Typologies; Sites


Tourism is a complex phenomenon involving a wide range of people, increasingly seeking for new and unique experiences in order to satisfy the most diverse motives, reason why the world tourism landscape has been changing in the last decades [1]. Tourists’ motivations, as the destinations they seek, are no longer related with the traditional sun, beach and beautiful sceneries. The concept of ‘pleasant diversion in pleasant places’ is changing and broadening into new market demanding, more complex and even unusual [2]. This is the case of dark tourism, considered as the phenomenon which encompasses the presentation and consumption (by visitors) of real and co modified death and disaster sites [3]. In a more specific way, dark tourism is considered as the “visitation to places where tragedies or historically noteworthy death has occurred and that continue to impact our lives” [4]. Nonetheless, it has also been referred as the act of travel to sites associated with death, suffering and the seemingly macabre [5]. This is a topic recently addressed but death is indeed one of the oldest reasons for travelling [6,7]. Attraction and curiosity for death are not new concepts; there has always been a fascination for the human nature darkest side [8]. The demand for places and experiences related to death reassemble to the Middle Age and the Romantic period, very often with religious or pilgrimage purposes [9]. Early examples of Dark Tourism were the pilgrimages to holy sites, the patronage of Roman gladiatorial games, the public executions of the medieval period, the guided morgue tours of the Victorian period, the ancient city of Pompeii “the greatest than atopic travel destination of the Romantic period”, among others [10]. Dark Tourism covers all the sites that celebrate the death, fear, fame or infamy [11]. Since the mid-20th century, the demand and supply for this specific type of tourism has increased significantly in both size and scope [12]. Dark Tourism was pointed as a contemporary “leisure activity” that has been explored and offered by the popular press. Media giving easy access, particularly through films, photographs and news of accidents and tragedies, allows the global community to experience a remote event as if it had occurred locally [13]. Despite the major importance of this market niche and the significant amount of research both “by the academic and the media community” (Stone), there is little consensus among researchers on the definition, designation and typology of this controversial tourism product. Therefore, the main goal of this paper is to present some Dark Tourism definitions, typologies and sites based in the main studies done so far on the product.

Dark Tourism – A Troublesome Concept

Dark Tourism as a tourism product started to gain researchers’ attention since the early 90s, but there is no consensus not only on the conceptualization but also on the designation. In fact, other designations were used to describe the same phenomenon, namely: “Black Spot” as “commercial developments of grave and sites in which celebrities or large number of people have met with sudden and violent deaths [14]. “Thanatourism“ - is the “travel to a location wholly, or partially, motivated by the desire for actual or symbolic encounters with death, particularly, but not exclusively, violent death, which may, to a varying degree be activated by the person-specific features of those whose deaths are its focal objects” (Seaton). “Atrocity Tourism” like the type of tourism that leads the individual to visit holocaust sites (Beech), “Morbid Tourism” considered as the travel to attractions that focus on accidents and sudden violent death [15].

Dark Tourism - Typologies

The attention given to events of death, suffering, and atrocity and the subsequent development of dark tourism sites is attributed to an inherent human curiosity towards mortality and the darker aspects of humanity [3]. Once recognized as a phenomenon, several countries have tried to integrate dark tourism as a product into their tourism industry [16]. Many destinations around the world implemented structures to support this new offer, playing dark tourism an important role in both a country’s economy and its image. Thereby, for the individual who wishes to journey and gaze upon real or recreated death, a plethora of sites, attractions and exhibitions are now emerging across the world to cater to the ‘darker side of travel’ [12]. The consensus between the literature researchers is that dark tourism has a typology depending on the visitors’ motivations and sites, namely War/Battlefield Tourism, Disaster Tourism, Prison Tourism, Cemetery Tourism, Ghost Tourism, and Holocaust Tourism. War/Battlefield Tourism can be described as the recreational travel to war zones for sightseeing or historical studying purposes, tourists deliberately visit nations that have been involved in a war, looking for evidence of the conflict. The artifacts of war such as battlefields, cemeteries, monuments, museums and living history demonstrations have historically served as resource bases for the development of a wide variety of war tourism attractions and related infrastructures [17,18]. War tourism isn’t something new, since the Waterloo and Gettysburg battles, the armies that gathered there attracted the curiosity of innumerous individuals to the local, the phenomenon is not new what is new is its marketing (Stone). Generally speaking, war tourism appears associated with battle and suffering scenes, but not only, it also emerges linked with places that have an important role in the nations’ history, to military museums, fortifications, castles, among others [19]. In fact, there are a number of reasons why tourists visit these conflicts sites, including commemoration, entertainment, education and pilgrimage [20]. Battlefields are especially significant as memorial landscapes because they challenge us to recall basic realities of historical experiences, especially those of death, suffering and sacrifice [21,22]. Disaster Tourism is the practice of traveling to areas that have recently experienced natural or man-made disasters. Information about disasters and their effects draws human attention and also play an important informative and educational role. Individuals who participate in this type of tours are typically curious to see the results of the disaster and often travel as part of an organized group (Różycki). One of the oldest disaster tourism sites are Pompeii and Herculaneum, where tourists can learn about the history and aspects of the Vesuvius’ volcanic activity and experience the unique attraction of seeing casts of human remains preserved in volcanic ash [23]. Other natural disasters sites became well-known worldwide, specifically, the Hurricane Katrina considered one of the five deadliest hurricanes, in the history of the United States; the 1960 Chile Earthquake the most powerful earthquake ever recorded struck near Valdivia, where 6,000 people were killed; the great flood in 1931 in central China was the deadliest natural disaster ever recorded, among others. Concerning the disasters made by man, it’s imperative to speak about the Chernobyl disaster that happened in Ukraine in 1986. This disaster was the worst nuclear power plant accident in history in terms of cost and casualties. The magnitude of the incident was reflected in the number of the resulting deaths, as well as in the consequential costs and long-term effects left by the radiations, such as cancer and other deformities. Prison Tourism is the visit to prisons that have a dark history attached and it combines education and entertainment. With this type of tourism, former sites of punishment and incarceration have become popular tourist experiences as deactivated prisons are converted into museums or heritage sites. In the last decades, several old prisons were rehabilitated and converted into tourism destinations. The most famous prisons in the world are Alcatraz and Robben Island. Old prisons such as Alcatraz and Robben island are “stony silent witnesses to the acts that former regimes were prepared to do to people who violated laws or who seemed threatening or suspicious” [24]. Visit to prisons combine education and entertainment. These prison sites are becoming tourist attractions that register a growing number of visitors. Deactivated prisons all over the world have found a second life by operating as tourist attractions, museums and even hostels, offering everything from spooky evening tours by candlelight to the chance to stay overnight in a cell. The visitors to these sites are curious people, history buffs and more and more, ghost hunters [25]. Cemetery Tourism is the movement of people to visit cemeteries to see statuary and funeral ornaments in tombs of notable and famous people and other anonymous [26]. If it is true that most people associate cemeteries with sadness and morbidity, it is also true that there is a growing number of people for whom they are a source of fascination or interest [27,28]. Cemetery tourists can be interested in the historical aspects of cemeteries or the historical relevance of its inhabitants. One of the most famous cemeteries in the world is the Parisian Père Lachaise cemeteries, in which were buried renowned personalities such as: Jim Morison, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Eugène Delacroix, Moliere, among others. Equally famous is the “Cimitero Acattolico” in Rome, known as the poets’ and artists’ cemetery. There are also cemeteries in Europe that deserve to be mentioned, namely, the Prazeres cemetery in Portugal, the cemetery of San Amaro, in Spain, the Old St. Matthew’s cemetery, in Germany, and many others. The existence of numerous cemeteries with personalities that have marked the world history in various fields (literature, philosophy, music, etc.) led to the creation of the ASCE - Association of Significant Cemeteries in Europe. The main goal of ASCE is to promote the European cemeteries as a fundamental part of the cultural heritage of humanity, as well as, to raise awareness among European citizens of the importance of the relevant cemeteries [26]. Ghost Tourism concerns the commercial exploitation of ghosts, though; this concept is not necessarily new. It was common in the past crowds joining together, to allegedly proceed to ghost hunting’s with the local commercials gaining rewards with it [29]. Even the upper classes were fascinated with this phenomenon, for instance in Scotland, considered as a repository of ghosts and supernatural in the 18th and 19th century [30]. Recently, there was a change in the way locals and communities deal with the alleged apparitions. Ghost tourism came to contradict the historical vision in which communities wanted to get rid of their own spirits, instead, they are now very popular and sought. Ghost tourism divides itself assuming a lighter and darker facet (Stone) depending on the purpose it is intended for. The ghost tourism, whose infrastructures were developed for entertainment purposes, tends to be in the lightest part of the dark tourism spectrum, an example of that is the Dracula Park. However, this does not exclude moments of dark reflexing and belief as well as genuine attempts to provide historically accurate representations of paranormal activity, which are normally associated with the darker part of the dark tourism spectrum [31]. Ghost tourism often involves the movement through public spaces, reason why, the excursions to observe paranormal activity are becoming increasingly frequent. The ghost tourism promotion has been based on three essential forms: haunted hotels that use that specific particularity to attract the public; the enterprises that focus exclusively on paranormal events; and the paranormal tours to find ghosts [31]. Some of the most remarkable ghost tourism sites are: the Waverly Hills sanatorium, in Kentucky, the Tower of London, the Ancient Ram Inn, in Gloucestershire, the Island of the Dolls in Mexico, and so on. Sites of genocide and crimes against humanity or Holocaust Tourism: consists in the visit to places where cruel historical events have occurred, especially areas connected with exterminations. Holocaust tourism appeals to young travelers, born long after the events that such sites represent, as a way to present the perpetrated errors committed in the past. Auschwitz remains the most important site of Holocaust, remembrance and collective mourning in the world [32]. Holocaust cultural representations have grown drastically in the last decades due, in part, to movies such as the “Der Untergang” - The Downfall - (2004), “Schindler’s List” (1993), the “Killing Fields” (1984), “The Diary of Anne Frank” (1959) and many others, that retract the most dark period of our history and “have placed the holocaust in the popular consciences” [33].

Dark Tourism Supply – Shades and Intensity

The universal term dark when applied to tourism is too broad and does not readily expose the multilayer’s of dark tourism supply. Dark tourism presence is diverse and widespread. It is due to this diversity of sites that the authors feel a need to distinguish shades of darkness between types of sites, based on characteristics, perceptions and the product traits. The dark tourism supply is much differentiated, in some destinations death really occurred; others were built purposefully to recreate those events. Some researchers consider that dark tourism sites can be measured accordingly to their degree of darkness, in a continuum from the darkest to the lightest (Stone) (Figure 1). In accordance with this idea, Seaton defined seven types of Dark Tourism suppliers.
Figure 1: Darkest – Lightest Framework of Supply.
Dark fun factories
Visitor sites, attractions and tours that have an entertainment focus and commercial ethic. They represent fictional death and macabre events, as that, they need a high degree of tourism infrastructures. At this degree, attractions such as the London Dungeon or the Dracula Park should be pointed out, as being the lightest dark tourism places in the world.
Dark exhibitions
Dark Exhibitions offer products that circle around death and suffering with an often commemorative, educational and reflective message. These exhibitions are drawn to reflect education and potential learning activities. The museums that display death with educational and reminiscent purposes are the best examples of dark exhibitions.
Dark dungeons
Dark Dungeons places/attractions related to justice and criminal matters, namely former prisons. Dark Dungeons offer products that combine entertainment and education as a main merchandise focus. The Alcatraz Federal prisons, the Robben Island prison, the Missouri State penitentiary among others, are good examples of dark dungeons.
Dark resting places
Dark Resting Places focuses upon the cemetery or grave markers as potential products for Dark Tourism (Seaton). More and more tourists include the cemeteries in their tours. Those of large dimension are true open-air museums that include several architectural works and sculptures of refined taste. The most visited cemeteries nowadays are the Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise, the Arlington National cemetery, La Recoleta cemetery and many others.
Dark shrines
Dark Shrines sites based on the act of remembrance and respect for the recently deceased. Dark Shrines are non- purposeful for tourism and do not possess much tourism infrastructures due to their temporal nature. The most evident example of a Dark Shrine is the Solomon Isles where the battle of Guadalcanal occurred.
Dark conflict sites
Dark Conflict sites associated with war and battlefields. These sites have an educational and commemorative focus, as well as an historic one. The Solomon Isles, where the battle of Guadalcanal occurred, are one of the well-known dark conflict sites.
Dark camps of genocide
Dark Camps of Genocide are those sites that mark a concentration of death and atrocity. Currently, the tourist attractions associated with genocides and wars constitute one of the largest categories of visiting spots around the world. Auschwitz- Birkenau, Cambodja, and Rwanda, can be highlighted as being, some of the few sites, where past genocides and mass atrocities happened. The dark sites and attractions can switch between the darkest black and the lightest black, being the darkest black the places where death really occurred and because of that use less tourism infrastructures to attract the visitors, and the lightest black that concerns the places/attractions where death is recreated and need to use higher tourism infrastructures to attract tourists [8]. According to this “Darkest-Lightest” framework of supply (Stone), the continuum represents different levels of contact with the Dark provided by Dark Tourism sites. On the left side of the image we can see the Darkest Tourism that concerns the sites where death and suffering have actually occurred, like Auschwitz the world’s most dark destination, symbolizing the genocide of thousands of Jews. At this level the main goal is to educate tourists about the place/ event. On the right side of the color scale we are able to see the lightest tourism, which is performed at sites merely associated with death, and therefore, need to possess excellent touristic infrastructures created with the intention of being attractions and entertain the tourists, one example is the Dracula Park.
Dark Tourism Sites and Attractions Worldwide
A bit scattered all over the world, Dark Tourism plays an important role in both the economy and image of some destinations. Destinations considered as dark tourism sites, are museums, cemeteries, slums, concentration camps, war scenarios, attempts or others places of tragedy [34]. Having that in mind, it’s now time to exhibit some of the most visited Dark Tourism sites in the world (Table 1).
Table 1: Dark Tourism Sites Worldwide.


Conflicting is the word to use when we think on the attitude of the contemporary society towards death. On one hand, individuals fear it, on the other hand they want to know more about it so they can lose that same fright. Becker [35] argues that “the idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is the mainspring of human activity - activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man”. Having that in mind, we can see that Dark Tourism in its various forms came to demystify the fearful idea that individuals have about death, because it allows them to confront and behold their own mortality. Strongly related to the culture and to the heritage of the destinations, Dark Tourism brings to life the history of the tragedies once occurred, reason why, the innumerable sites/attractions that it offers, permit the individuals to have further contact, in a safe ambience, with death. Also plays an important role in bringing to the present, past events, sharing information and causing emotions, expanding the discussion of the darker side of history and humanity. Within dark tourism, death becomes real (again) for the individual (Sharpley and Stone). Not only for emotional and educational purposes, can dark tourists also look for these destinations to seek their own heritage or to satisfy their curiosity, amongst other reasons. As stated in this paper, dark tourism sites are scattered throughout the world and attending the number of visitors they receive every year, this alternative type of tourism is gaining an increasingly interest and needs to be designed more profoundly. Dark Tourism cannot be perceived as an expression of tourist demand only, but rather needs to be considered in conjunction with tourism supply. It is likely that the consumption of Dark Tourism isn’t restricted to the contemplating of the death, so future studies should focus on its consumption as well as to the empirical examination of the motives inherent when choosing a dark destination [36-38].


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