Home > Travel > The Lure of Dark Tourism: Murder and Mayhem

The Lure of Dark Tourism: Murder and Mayhem

Places
like Cambodia’s Killing Fields, Auschwitz, New York’s Ground Zero, or
the Wolf’s Lair where Hitler barely survived an assassination attempt
in 1944, exert a powerful pull on travelers.

But what’s the fascination?

Professor John Lennon of Glasgow University wrote a book exploring
exactly the question, why do we want to travel to dark places: Dark Tourism: The Attraction of Death and Disaster.

The trend is so strong, The Atlantic Magazine
just reported on what they call a “booming global industry in travel to
macabre destinations,” which they dubbed “Thanatourism,” after Thanatos, the Greek personification of death.

Cambodia, for example, is very dependent on travel and tourism as a source of revenue, about one-fifth of its GDP.

The country’s main attraction is Angkor Wat,
the stunning complex of Buddhist and Hindu shrines and temples built in
the 12 century. The site alone attracts about 2 million tourists
annually.

But that’s not Cambodia’s only draw.

Another major attraction is the dreaded S-21 or Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in the capital, Phnom Penh.

S-21 was the torture center of the brutal Khmer Rouge that executed
about 20% of the country’s population during its horrific rule in the
70’s.

Thousands of prisoners were killed at Tuol Sleng, but in spite of, or because of that, today it attracts thousands of fascinated travelers.

So do the infamous “Killing Fields” at Choeung Ek, where 17,000 people were murdered, and human bones, shattered and smashed skulls still litter the site.

Ghoulish?

Maybe. But the place is high on the Cambodian government’s list of
places it encourages visitors to see… presumably as a lesson in
history, and to raise badly needed revenue.

Both The Atlantic and Professor Lennon see the demand for “authentic
travel experiences” as a driving force behind the surge in Dark Tourism.

Other theories suggest that increasingly, in an age of sterile
technology, travelers want the shock of experiencing human tragedy. Or
they want to show respect and be educated to a particular piece of
tortured history and human suffering.

Still others argue that travelers to these places want to experience
their own mortality or maybe derive some pleasure through the
misfortune of others.

Whatever the reason, Dark Tourism is increasingly big business.

Whether it’s tourists flocking to Ground Zero, taking a Hurricane
Katrina Tour or visiting the Killing Fields, as the dilapidated sign
swinging on a tree in in Cambodia says, “Tourism Will Bring Money And
Jobs.”

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