Shining a light on dark tourism research

26 September 2014

Lyndsey Boardman

International conference addresses contentious issues surrounding growing industry

The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) has placed the increasingly popular subject of dark tourism under the spotlight to consider the fine line between commemoration and the commercialisation of death and tragedy.

Dr Philip Stone, Executive Director of Institute for Dark Tourism Research (iDTR) at UCLan, invited experts from around the world to Preston for at an international conference to consider the many issues surrounding a growing industry that has arguably occurred ever since people have had the means and motivation to travel for leisure.

Places such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ground Zero and the Killing Fields of Cambodia are amongst the most popular places of dark tourism, also known as thanatourism, which relates to the act of traveling to sites, attractions and exhibitions of death, disaster or the seemingly macabre.

Dr Philip Stone commented:

“Dark tourism raises complex moral and ethical dilemmas, not least those that focus on how to incorporate sites of death and tragedy into the mainstream visitor economy. There is a very fine line between commercialisation and commemoration."

“Through the research conducted by iDTR and our partners we aim to put dark tourism activities under the microscope and consider the consequences of people visiting these sites. Issues such as how the money they make should be used, the appropriateness of tourism photography and interestingly, how dark tourism can be used as a mediating tool for peace by critically examining the claim that ‘tourism is the greatest peace industry ever’.”

The iDTR has partnerships from around the world and this particular symposium, held at the Harris Museum in Preston, featured Dr Rudi Hartmann from the University of Colorado Denver, USA, who discussed how the study of the management of Holocaust sites has changed over the last 40 years, and Emeritus Professor Tony Seaton from the University of Bedfordshire who looked at how tourism and war are interrelated, delving into the idea of tourism as an institution for peace.

Dr Philip Stone added:

“While media interest in the concept of dark tourism continues to grow, to date, academic literature on the subject has been eclectic and theoretically fragile."

“The iDTR continues to make great strides to address this and academic and industry partners of iDTR are crucial in helping identify and examine the diverse research issues inherent within dark tourism, heritage, and memorialisation studies.”