This short special feature in Lonely Planet's Yearbook of sorts did a lot in alerting a wider audience to the existence of dark tourism. It is entitled "Dark Tourism – travel to sites associated with death, disaster + depravity". As far as the concept of dark tourism is concerned, the authors start at the usual point of departure: Lennon/Foley's seminal book
(and precursor articles). However, this is not an academic piece of writing and it soon departs from the narrower delimitations of Lennon/Foley.
What the article is especially good at is addressing the potentially problematic ethical issues involved in some forms of dark tourism; and they do that without falling into the usual "moral panic" trap you often encounter in the media. Instead they acknowledge the view commonly held in the academic study of dark tourist motives, namely that it is an exploration of "alterior territory" (sic!) borne out of the fact "that society is now so far removed from human mortality that death has become something we crave to understand". But while there are forms of dark tourism that are perfectly acceptable (visiting memorials, etc.) there are also borderline areas that the article pinpoints, such as "where voyeurism and self-gratification" come into play. They actually offer a catalogue of things "Too Dark – Don't Try This", which includes putting one's own life at risk – cf. danger tourism
– or "Going Back too Early" to disaster-stricken areas that can do without the extra strain through tourists' visits.
However, there are also strange inconsistencies and deviations from what dark tourism is considered to be on this website. For instance, they devote a full page to "Aid & Relief Volunteering". Highly commendable as that may no doubt be, it cannot fall under the heading 'dark tourism' – no matter how dark the places concerned – simply because it is NOT tourism
(and certainly shouldn't be regarded as tourism!). When it comes to "shades of darkness" they attempt a categorization that actually mixes things up more than clarifying anything. They too propose a "darkometer", but one that "measures" degrees of "how dark are you" as a traveller
(very unlike the darkometer
proposed on this website, which ranks dark tourism destinations
). Here they suggest the following scale: opaque – dark – die-hard dark – pitch black – too dark. The last point includes going back too early to a disaster zone or, even more dubious: going to watch public executions (e.g. in Saudi Arabia) and such weirdo nature stuff (cf. overlaps
– I wish to make it quite clear that I do NOT endorse such things either!). At the highest acceptable category they list places such as Auschwitz
or the killing fields
as examples, at the lowest museums such as the Smithsonian (cf. Enola Gay
). Bizarrely, however, they put visits to the genocide memorial
in the intermediate category, i.e. below Auschwitz
, but why that should be less dark remains totally incomprehensible to me. I take issue most with their second "lightest" category 'dark'. Here they list as "examples" battle re-enactments. Sorry, but that's just play. It's neither particularly dark (people do it for completely different reasons – fun, mainly, in dressing up and prancing about … more like amateur theatre in the open, really) – nor is it really tourism … if there is a travel element involved then only that of driving (or cycling, etc.) to the venue, like you would to get to the theatre or cinema or some other entertainment venue.
Such conceptual glitches apart, though, most of the examples of destinations/sites given in this short article are indeed quite representative of core dark tourism. The authors cover briefly a wide range of such places including Robben Island
, Grutas Park
, Pere Lachaise
, the Sixth Floor Museum
, etc., etc. – with the occasional odd one thrown in (such as the Taj Mahal in India
– OK, it's a mausoleum, but who goes there for that reason? … or is even aware it was built for that purpose?). I also find it a bit off the mark to class the Titan Missile Museum
in Arizona, USA
, as "tasteless but fun" (I didn't get a hint of tastelessness when I went there!). Nor is there a "big red button to press" … but presumably a certain "witty" style took precedence over factual accurateness, as so often with the quirkier Lonely Planet publications (I mean those that aren't proper guidebooks, which are usually factually well researched; I have no problem with them).
It has to be remembered that the Blue List yearbooks are also compiled in a different manner and for a somewhat different target audience (and often with their online participation). They are more "travel dream" books, to give rough ideas, rather than being intended as actual practical guidebooks. As such, it is highly commendable, then, that Lonely Planet did give dark tourism such a platform. It sure raised the awareness about the phenomenon in wider circles of travellers as well as the tourist industry and the media … now do the next step and take it seriously for real.