A while back now I headed to Huddersfield to meet Associate Director of the institute for Dark Tourism Research (iDTR), Professor Richard Sharpley.
I’ve been interested in Dark Tourism for many years, without ever knowing it had been categorised as such. Dark Tourism is any tourism associated with death or tragedy. People have been Dark Tourists for millennia. Whether heckling Gladiators in ancient Rome, or taunting those poor people doomed to be executed in the middle ages, they’ve always ‘enjoyed’ being spectators to the dead.
Nowadays, we tend not to put people’s heads on spikes or drown them publicly with the excuse that they might be witches. But we haven’t lost interest in the macabre. We just visit places deemed to be educational that relate to death, rather than ogling the dying for fun.
Anne Frank’s House, Auschwitz, Ground Zero and Titanic Belfast are the most visited places that can be considered part of Thanatourism (that’s Dark Tourism’s posh name). All the above get over a million visitors a year. And nobody will think you crass for visiting. The sites are important for remembrance, for education and for reconciliation.
Professor Richard Sharpley is interested in this idea of death as a context. He’s Professor of Tourism and Development at the University of Central Lancashire and runs a module on Dark Tourism as part of the Tourism & Development degree.
‘modern society hides from everything to do with mortality,’ Richard says, ‘We’ve lost our natural ability to deal with death and dying. After you’ve kicked the bucket, the death industry takes over – separating people who want to grieve from grieving.’
Richard has also made good use of travel blogs in his research,
‘I read about 50 blog posts about Rwanda, 95% of which were emotionally charged and relatively long. The bloggers were shocked by the horrific displays and couldn’t view the perpetrators as human. When they went back into modern Rwanda after, where those aged 16 and over had been present during the genocide – they were imbued with tremendous hope, because the Rwandans were putting their lives back together. I’ve read the opinions of some who have condemned others for visiting. But most people go there for the gorillas anyway.’
Richard and I spoke at length on the subject of Dark Tourism, and I’ll have an article coming out about it in my favourite magazine very soon. Until then I’ll leave you with a final thought from Richard:
‘Tourism is a lens through which we look at and understand others, it shows us what’s really important to us, and Dark Tourism is a part of that.’
This post was sponsored by East Coast. Their First Class experience has to be the best I’ve had in terms of the food you are offered. I’d rather they had pleather seats but can’t exactly complain.