CAN DARK TOURISM HAVE A SOCIAL IMPACT?
On hearing the term 'Dark Tourism', one might easily mistake it as a form of travel that focuses solely on abandoned, and allegedly haunted places, around the world. However, that's not it. Dark Tourism is defined as traveling to destinations that have witnessed a past catastrophe, violence, tragedy, or punishment. It's disturbing, unsettling, and gloomy. Essentially macabre. Does that mean that any macabre site is dark tourism? Not really. For example, the McKamey Manor, a horror house in Tennessee? Not dark tourism. Certainly, disconcerting and macabre, but not dark tourism.
Essentially, haunted houses, abandoned places or just cruel people aren’t dark tourism, unless some kind of tragedy is attached to them. Therefore, all dark tourism is macabre but not all macabre is dark tourism.
Social context has always played a vital role, as it affects consumer experience. Socially, dark tourism provides psychological and emotional benefits to local communities. Dark Tourism is used for learning and reflecting on tragic issues by future generations. It helps in raising awareness of horrific events in history and in the process, it guides people to understand the communities they live in. Dark Tourism also plays a vital role in the promotion of local cultures and history by interacting with tourists. This leads to the creation of new camaraderie and helps understand the importance of socializing. Through communication, dark tourism can reduce language barriers and promote global understanding.
Economically, dark tourism enables communities to enjoy benefits such as revenue generation from sites that are located in areas that do not have much tourism potential because of geographical limitations. Tourists visiting these disaster locations bring in tourist dollars, which aid the local community. Dark Tourism sites assist in creating job opportunities for the local community, which aids to boost the country's economy.
Dark tourism sites are not leisure sites but rather an insight into the devastation of the Earth, soaked with blood, history, and heritage. These sites can be shocking and upsetting for many people, for their somber environment isn’t what people often consider as traveling. Nevertheless, all these feelings don’t make dark tourism wrong.
Viewing history without rose-tinted glasses is an experience that makes us grow as people; we see pain, sacrifice, and horrors of the past, and in turn, learn to appreciate our present.
Often dark tourism is portrayed in a negative light, deeming it disrespectful of the memories of the tragedy. On the contrary, it's the way people interact with the property that is unethical. People who take selfies with a mass grave and treat an active war zone as a tourist destination are the problem. Other times, it comes down to the sentiments of those who are directly or indirectly affected by a dark event. Dark sites require the passage of time to let people settle their emotions and honor the memories of those who died before it’s accessible to the world. Anything before that is too soon. But how soon is too soon? Well, that is subjective. The Rwandan Genocide Memorial was open to the public in 2004, 10 years after the event, whereas, Auschwitz was converted into a museum in 1947, just 2.5 years after the liberation.
But why does dark tourism matter? Because when everything is done and over, what remains are stories that the stones of those places have witnessed. Stories that must be told and remembered, for ignorance of them will only lead to history repeating itself. The following are 3 such destinations whose stories matter:
1) Chernobyl, Ukraine
Visitors are guided through eerily abandoned classrooms, crumbling buildings, and an atmospherically rusting funfair.
2) Murambi Genocide Memorial, Rwanda
At the end of a dirt track, on a hill surrounded by forest, the incongruously modern museum is dedicated to an estimated 8,00,000 souls who lost their lives during the 100 days between April and June 1994.
3) KGB Headquarters, Vilnius, Lithuania
The KGB's notorious headquarters and prison in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, was still operational, torture chambers and all, up until 1991. It is now known as the Museum of Genocide Victims.
Dark tourism is important to us for the same reasons it should be important to everyone. History matters. Those who lost their lives to genocide or in an attempt to enact a positive change, matter. Remembrance matters.
What do you think, can dark tourism bring about a change if more people are aware of it?