The Darker Side of Tourism

It has only been in recent years that dark tourism has been collectively referred to. It can vary from travel to places that have association with death, disaster and destruction. Since the increase in tourism so has the demand for dark tourism grown in both scale and scope. Most noticeable in one of the world’s largest segments, war tourism. Numerous tours can be found to battlefield sites and attractions throughout the world, also available are detailed guidebooks offering information on the subject.

Dark tourism can range from a visit to graveyards, holocaust tourism, atrocity tourism, prison tourism or slavery tourism. The diversity in these areas are huge, take death related tourism as an example, they can be fictional destination such as the ‘Dracula Experience’ or sites of famous deaths like Elvis Presley, to major disasters which Ground Zero is a prime example.

One of the segments I would like to looked at more closely and have shown an example of in previous posts is ‘Genocide Tourism’. It is an unlikely pairing of words but when we look at case examples such as Auschwitz, that in 1990’s had over half a million visit a year. The research into ‘genocide tourism’ is fairly new and has only recently been differentiated from a heritage context. This lack of research and information is surprising considering how tourism has grown in areas such as Auschwitz.

It is also relevant to consider if the victims of these atrocities are being exploited for financial gain. The addition of personnel procession to an exhibit or museum can increase the authenticity and poignancy of the visitor’s experience. Even the use and display of human remains of genocide victims raises a number of ethical questions.

Khmer Rouge

Cambodia has become a popular destination when considering dark tourism and especially genocide tourism. It is a relatively new destination in this segment of tourism since the atrocities only happened in the mid-1970s. Since then Cambodia has become a popular place to visit in Asia and can be seen in the large amount of visitors. In 2000, 466,000 visited Cambodia and that number quadrupled to over two million by 2007.

Many people are visiting Cambodia to visit the temple complex at Angkor. With this and the increase in packages around Asia that include Cambodia it has become a very popular destination in recent years. Now the site of The killing Fields has been transferred to a Cambodian-Japanese company on a 30 year lease, this suggests that the area will be increasingly exploited for tourist dollars.

We have to ask ourselves if ‘genocide tourism’ is an acceptable term to describe this form of visit? It is more likely that people chose to visit these destinations for education rather than the horror of the events commemorated. Tourism could cause problems in areas that are there for grieving and sensitivity is required in the management of these areas out of respect for the victims and their relatives.

Continue reading with Orphanage Tourism

9 thoughts on “The Darker Side of Tourism

  1. Before now I have never heard the term “Dark Tourism”.
    I don’t believe it exists in my language. It’s and interesting thought. One that I have been guilty of.
    In my case it is to visit Pripiat to experience the abandoned nuclear city.

    Being half Polish and spending many summer vacations in Poland, my aunt and grandmother would take me to see the concentration camps in Poland.
    I saw the shoes, the teeth, the jewelry, the barracks, the beds, the pictures and the gas showers where thousands very executed.
    The experience is still deeply rooted in me. This was for my part an educational and very valuable experience as remember it vividly though it was 25 years ago.

    It is this part of genocide tourism that I would not be without.


    1. Tourism is always changing with new segments emerging. 10 years ago ecotourism wasn’t a thing now it is a huge motivator in our decisions to travel. The title of the post and content comes from a book I read on the subject, The Darker Side of Travel which explores the topic in detail. I can imagine how a visit to places like that can influence the rest of your life. Thank you for your interest.


  2. interesting. like the previous commenter, i too have never heard of this phrase, ‘dark tourism.’
    i have been to Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng, and when I was there, I did notice tourists, but I thought they were there for educational purposes as well, to learn more about the atrocities that occurred there. the only time i felt bothered or recognized that there was a negative consequence, was around Choeung Ek there were many children behind a fence, sticking their hands through it, and begging for money. it was then that i realized that they perceived me as a tourist (despite being cambodian myself) and that giving money to street children would only encourage them to continue doing so.

    in that sense i felt like there were multifactorial causes- children begging because they live in poverty as the result of the killing fields… ironically, them begging at the site of the killing fields because there are tourists there who have money to give…and then my family returning to the killing fields, the very place where they fled from.

    hm, it’s a bit overwhelming, now that i think about it…


    1. It’s interesting to hear from the perspective of someone directly involved. I believe that I was there for education purposes and I was educated during my visits but there is the part of me that was there as it is a ‘thing to do’ when you are in Cambodia. There is difficulty in finding the balance between educating tourists, sometimes for profits, and memorialising the dead.


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