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Dark Tourism: manipulating tourists interpretation

Free essay example:

Alvaro Rodriguez Maldonado. TBM 3

Content  page

Introduction..............................................................................................Pages 2 - 4

Dark Tourism: manipulating tourist’s interpretation…………………..Pages4 - 9

Conclusions…………………………………………………………………..Pages 9 – 10

References……………………………………………………………………Pages 11 - 12


Appendix 1: Dark tourism Spectrum…………………...……………… Page 13

        Appendix 2: Pictures…………………………………………………… Pages 14 - 15


Most people think that the concept of dark tourism is a recent term that has appeared during the last few decades, however Stone and Sharpley (2009 p.4) states that dark tourism has always been found in human lives since human started to develop new ways of leisure; good examples from the author that illustrate this statement are the gladiatorial games from the Roman era and attendances at medieval public executions.

Appart from the statement seeing below, dark tourism is a relatively new area of tourism research. Tarlow (2005) defines Dark Tourism as:

‘‘Visitations to places where tragedies or historically noteworthy death has occurred and that continue to impact our lives.’’

Foley and Lennon (2000) also define the same concept as:

‘‘The phenomenon which encompasses the presentation and consumption (by visitors) of real and commodified death and disaster sites’’

According to Foley and Lennon (2000) the term of dark tourism is categorized in two main different types of sites: primary sites, that are sites associated with recent and historic incidences of death and disaster such as holocaust camps to sites of celebrity deaths, and ‘secondary sites’ commemorating tragedy and death, such as museums and memorials.

Furthermore, according to Dann (1998), dark tourism destinations can also be classified in five different categories described below:

Perilous Places: Dangerous destinations from the past and present such as towns of horror, dangerous destinations. E.g.: Chernobyl or Hiroshima

Houses of horror: Buildings associated with death and horror, either actual or represented such as dungeons of death or heinous hotels. E.g.: The London dungeon or the house of terror in Budapest.

Fields of fatality: Areas/land commemorating death, fear, fame or infamy such as bloody battlegrounds, the hell of the holocaust, or cemeteries for celebrities. E.g.: Places where Elvis Presley, James Dean and JFK died, Auschwitz or the Ground Zero in New York.

Tours of torment: Tours/visits to attractions associated with death, murder and mayhem, such as mayhem and murder or the now notorious. E.g.: The small town of Soham in Cambridgeshire, U.K. where two young school girls were murdered in 2002 or the jack the ripper’s tour.

Themed thanatos: Collections/museums themed around death and suffering such as morbid museums, monuments to morality. E.g.: The body world exhibition, where hundreds of real dead corpses are exposed showing the spectators the anatomy of them.

At this point it is interesting to know the motivational factors for tourists to visit this kind of dark touristic destinations. Authors such as Stone (2006), Wight (2005) and Sharpley (2009) mention five categories of motivations for tourist to visit dark tourism sites:

  • Travel to witness public enactments of death

-         Travel to see sites of mass or individual deaths after they have occurred

-         Travel to internment sites of, and memorials to, the dead

  •  Travel to view material evidence/symbolic representations of particular deaths
  •  Travel for re-enactments or simulation of death.

Over the last decade, the concept of dark tourism has attracted growing academic interest and media attention.Lennon, Foley (2000 p. 3), Sharpley and Stone (2009 p. 5) agree that there has been a rapid growth in the provision of dark tourism attractions and experiences because  of the increasing number of tourists interests in atrocities, recent deaths and disasters during the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.  Government and social agendas are taking advantage about this fact.  According to Williams (2007 p.129):

‘‘The tragedies, disasters or atrocities have a big potential, through their representation and commemoration, to be exploited not only for commercial gain through tourism but also to convey political messages’’

Based on the above, this essay aims to analyse the consequences of manipulating interpretation in the dark tourism, based on political and social agendas in order to provide a visitor experience, by examining two case studies. The author will try to find out who should really tell the story of dark tourist destinations and identify the role of technology in changing interpretation techniques and its consequences.  The essay will also show the reader the mysterious world of Dark Tourism, giving basic definitions, relevant examples of dark tourism destinations, the analysis of two cases studies (Auschwitz’s concentration camps and Fort Siloso), and relevant information about this topic.

Dark Tourism: manipulating tourist’s interpretation

There has always been controversy with Dark Tourism since this type of leisure trips has become popular in the tourism industry as a result of the role that governments and social agendas play on the manipulation of tourist’s interpretations. William (2007) illustrates the state mentioned before with the example of the memorial monuments like the Lincoln Memorial in NY or the Tsunami memorial Thailand, monuments and places that commemorate disasters, wars, atrocities or other events related with death and suffering. William mentions that those destinations could be exploited not only for commercial gain though tourism but also to convey political messages. The argument has been open: who and how should tell the tourists the history of those monuments?

According to Sharpley, R. & Stone, P. R. (2009), those political aspects of tourism mentioned before could be manifested in two different forms: The first one is the intervention of the government in the control, management and practical planning due to the fact that, tourism is an important sector that generates many different resources such as economical and social recourses on a international and thanks to its international diversity and scale. The second form is that the state may promote as an affirmation of its political identity and own culture, specific ways of tourism and the form that events and places are interpreted and developed as tourists destinations. This fact could be internal (e.g. promoting domestic tourism), or external in attempt to legitimate themselves within the global community as a way of intensify the cultural identity and international profile of a specific destination.

Williams (2007), states that disastrous events and political failure has become as a key point to the tourism thanks to an economic revitalisation:

‘’Since the early 1990s, Western European and American tourists who have flocked in large numbers to former communist nations particularly seek out examples of unfamiliar political arrangements and living conditions’’

Other example is found in some eastern European places where there has been an attempt to negate the meanings of the heritage of communism by decontextualising it, e.g. In Berlin, and in order to confirm the city’s and country’s new unified status, small sections of the Wall have been preserved and specific heritage sites have been developed that place the Wall firmly in the city’s past (Sharpley, R. & Stone, P. R. 2009).

On the other hand, Budapest’ house of terror, a prison from the past and torture centre in 1944 by the Hungarian Nazis, was refurbished as a museum in 2000 with different objectives such as a memorial to victims, a museum of artefacts, an educative role for present and future generations, and a tourist attraction. Sharpley, R. & Stone, P. R. (2009):

‘’This museum it doesn’t merely contain an exhibition dedicated to the victims’ memory; its appearance too conjures up the atmosphere of the place… knowing, sensing that its walls were hiding monstrous crimes, a sea of suffering… the house of terror museum is proof that the sacrifice for freedom is not futile. Those who fought for freedom and independence deafeated the dictatorships’’

Furthermore, Lennon and Foley (2000) give other example of how a tragic shared past is interpreted differently according to localised political ideology. Those authors mention the case of the still politically divided island of Cyprus (Greece) during the Turkish invasion on 1974. During this invasion, the southern Greek Cypriots are portrayed as victims of the invasion, while the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, those who died are in effect portrayed ‘martyrs’ of a peace operation.

Besides, Yuill, S. M. (2003) mention the role that the media could play manipulating tourist’s perception of some destinations by movies, documentaries or TV.  Same author states that:

‘’ Contemporary media has an undeniable influence over public consciousness’’

By placing those destinations destinations in the forefront of communications, visitors are made aware of these kinds of travel options. They could be pushed for several reasons such as heritage, curiosity, death, nostalgia or history, those reasons could vary with each individual tourist; nevertheless, the media offers wide range of information to satisfy these factors. In other words, it acts as a mediator between push factors, visitors and the destinations (Yuill, S. M. 2003).

Reaching this point the author will focus on the case studies of Auschwitz’s concentration camps and Fort Siloso, Singapore.

According to Slayton, S. L. (2006):

‘‘Auschwitz, in the suburbs of Oswiecim, Poland, was a complex of three concentration camps, Auschwitz I for death (rebuilt in 1979 into a museum with more than a half million visits per year, with a huge range of amenities for tourists) II for slave labour, and III for transport. It was the scene of one of the world’s greatest tragedies, the mass genocide of over one million Poles, European Jews, and Roma people (the gypsies) in the darkest years of WWII’’

Other authors such as Wight, C. (2005) or Cole, D. & Smith, B. (1992), also confirm that the quantity of people who died at the concentration camps were closer to 1.1 million. However, and according to The Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau (www.en.auschwitz.org.pl/m/) in the concentration camps were killed around 4 million of people, this important fact, which plays with the human historical memory is not the only one found during a tour in the museum. Wight, C. (2005) states that:

‘‘Much of the tour taken by the visiting public has been constructed to maximize audience engagement. For example, the famous gate with signage above reading ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ (Work will set you free) has been imported from its original position to a location near the end of the tour to create a ‘high’ (or perhaps low) point and a controversial conclusion to the ‘experience’’.

In an interview with the Auschwitz’ State museum, the Jew interviewer Cole, D. (1992) discovered that other artefacts and structures have been imported from various peripheral sections of the camp and set out in such a way as to create a ‘chronologically correct’ tour amounting to a slow crescendo of increasingly stark interpretation from start to finish (see appendix 2). During the documentary he noticed the way that the touristic guide is pushed to lie about the concentration’s camp history and even the manager and the director of it. Cole also demonstrate by other author’s literature  that more Jews died in Auschwitz of natural causes than by gassings or shootings and confirm that the story that Nazis made soap from human flesh is just a Myth.

At this point, the writer is wondering how authentic a place could be when visiting a dark tourism destination because of all the lies said, tourist’s historical memory manipulation or political propaganda. Stone, P.R (2006) said:

‘‘The shades of darkness within the dark tourism product can shift as events (such as wars, acts of terrorism, or the fall of a regime) transpire, and as new ‘files of representation’ (movies, novels, memoirs, etc.) lend moral meanings to sites of death and the macabre’’

In relation to this fact of a perceived shift of ‘darkness’ between products, a ‘darkerlighter tourism paradigm’ does indeed exist. Stone, P. R. (2006) also shows a Dark tourism spectrum where is shown a typology of destinations in relation to the grade of authenticity (see appendix 1), and a categorization in five different types of destinations in relation to the authenticity. From the less authentic to the more authentic this division is the following:

Dark Fun Factories, Dark Exhibitions, Dark Dungeons, Dark Resting Places and Dark Shrines.

The case of the coast artillery battery of Fort Siloso in Singapore is another dark tourism destination where the authenticity is questioned. Fort Siloso was constructed in 1885 and had its worst major battle in 1942 where hundreds of man recruited in order to face the fierce fight against Japan in World War II (www.fortsiloso.com). The Fort is divided into 3 zones: The Red Zoneillustrates the fall of Singapore to the Japanese during World War II, the Yellow Zone tells the story of the life of a soldier in Fort Siloso,and the Blue Zone, which is a tunnel complex under Mount Siloso and leads to a Gun Tower (Travel Singapore with me 2009).

According to Muzaini, H. Teo, P. & Yeoh, B. (2007), Fort Siloso uses a good technique to differentiate itself from other dark tourist destinies, it recreates the environment and atmosphere during the battle by using several interactive resources, such as simulations of gun-firing with gunpowder aroma and sounds or the recreation of war scenes with wax figures (see appendix 2) with the objective to make history into a leisure place for visitors. However, the visitor did not appreciate the fact that historical depth has been somewhat diluted in situ, avoiding controversial stories in order to satisfy visitor’s desires; as a consequence to this many of the site’s pilgrim visitors became frustrated.


The secret and dark side of tourism has been evolving and has been an interesting and polemic topic between experts of the field, tourists and victims from different wars, disasters or catastrophes related to these destinations during the last decades. Thanks to the evolution of dark tourism a categorization of destinations and different types of dark visitors with different motivations to visit these places has appeared.

The concern of memorial, and in special, to those from we rely it, is the main point of the essay. The correct representation and veracity of the dark destinations and its historical memory and culture has been changed or decontextualized on the benefit of the government, social agendas or the media.

Based on the cases studies of Auschwitz, Fort Siloso and many others, the author has noticed that, there is a large list of different controversial and contemporary exhibitory techniques used at dark tourism destinations. In relation to those techniques, the debate is open between traditionalists (e.g. the victims of the disasters) and post modern tourists: traditionalists try to defend the historical memory and argue about what information or interpretation should be shown in these types of attractions and claim the ‘‘true’’ historical memory; on the other hand, supporters of postmodernism tourism, defend the soft, interactive tourist experience and the search for new meaning, entertainment, and authenticity.

To sum up, the writer can say that history has been represented in many of the dark tourism sites mentioned around the essay, either as ‘‘too commercialised’’ or very selective of historical information such that alternative versions may have been erased.

Nowadays it could be said that dark tourism is fashionable. Seaton (1999) mentioned:

‘‘In the minds of many tourism forms of life, we are in death’’


Cole, D. & Smith, B. (1992). David Cole Interviews Dr. Franciszek Piper, Director, Auschwitz State Museum. (Video in Windows Media Format 44M). Downloaded from: http://vho.org/dl/ENG/DavidColeatAuschwitz.wmv - accessed 19/11/10 [i.p. 7, 8]

Dann, G. (1998). The dark the dark side of tourism. Etudes et Rapports, Serie L, Sociology/Psychology/Anthopology vol. 14. Série L. Aix-en-Provence: Centre International de Recherches et d’Etudes Touristiques. [i.p. 2]

Fort Siloso Website (2010). http://www.fortsiloso.com/ – accessed 8/11/2010 [i.p. 9]

Lennon, J. & Foley, M. (2000). Dark Tourism: The attractions of death a disaster. Continuum. London, UK. [i.p. 2, 3, 4, 6]

Muzaini, H. Teo, P. & Yeoh, B. (2007) Intimations of Postmodernity in Dark

Tourism: The Fate of History at Fort Siloso, Singapore. Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change. London, UK. [i.p. 9]

Seaton, A.V. (1999) War and thanatourism: Waterloo 1815–1914. Annals of Tourism

Research Vol. 26, Pages 130–158. Downloaded from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6V7Y-3VS7VK0-7&_user=838691&_coverDate=01%2F01%2F1999&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_origin=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1555941266&_rerunOrigin=google&_acct=C000044921&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=838691&md5=ade4bb8754eee83fddb59c07f006cd3e&searchtype=a – accessed 22/10/10 [i.p. 10]

Sharpley, R. & Stone, P. R. (2009). The darker side of travel: The theory and practice of Dark tourism. Channel view publications. Bristol, UK. [i.p. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]

Slayton, S. L. (2006). Auschwitz: A Grim Reminder of the Holocaust. http://www.grief-tourism.com/auschwitz-a-grim-reminder-of-the-holocaust/- accessed 25/10/10 [i.p. 7]

Stone, P.R (2005). Review by of the Tourism Society Seminar Event: ‘‘Dark Tourism - Cashing in on Tragedy?’’. http://pages.123-reg.co.uk/pstone1-995478/dark-tourism.org/id33.html. - accessed 22/10/10

Stone, P.R (2006) A dark tourism spectrum: Towards a typology of death and

macabre related tourist sites, attractions and exhibitions. TOURISM: An

Interdisciplinary International Journal Special Issue on Spirituality and Meaningful Experiences in Tourism N. 54 (pages 145-160). [i.p 3, 8]

Tarlow. E. P. (2005) Dark Tourism: The appealing .dark. side of tourism and more in

Niche Tourism (pages 48-49). Elsevier Butterworth. Oxford, UK. [i.p. 2]

The Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau (1999-2010). http://en.auschwitz.org.pl/m/. – accessed 13/11/210 [i.p. 7]

Travel Singapore with me (2009). Fort Siloso Tour – Witness the Darkest Period in the History of Singapore. http://www.travel-singapore-with-me.com/fort-siloso.html - accessed 8/11/2010 [i.p. 9]

Wight, C. (2005). Philosophical and methodological praxes in dark tourism: Controversy, contention and the evolving paradigm. Journal of Vacation Marketing Vol. 12 N 2. Glasgow, UK [i.p. 3, 7]

Williams, P. (2007). Memorial Museums: The Global Rush to Commemorate Atrocities. Berg Publishers. Oxford, UK.  [i.p. 3, 4, 5]

Yuill, S. M. (2003). Dark Tourism: Understanding visitor motivation at sites of death and disaster. http://repository.tamu.edu/bitstream/handle/1969.1/89/etd-tamu-2003C-RPTS-Yuill-1.pdf?sequence=1 – accessed 22/11/10 [i.p. 6, 7]


Appendix 1: Dark tourism spectrum (Stone 2006)


Appendix 2: Case studies’ illustrations


Danger sign in the actuality and in the past


Some chamber from Auschwitz’s concentration camp


‘‘Work will you make free’’ sign and pictures from Auschwitz’s victims


Tourist posing for a picture on a cannon. Tourists acting as if they were Fort Siloso’s soldiers.


Tourists taking pictures in front of a gallows.


Recreation of a veteran’s meeting with wax figures.

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