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.

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