Dark tourism: understanding visitor motivation at sites of death and disaster
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People are fascinated with death and disaster. One simply has to watch traffic slow to a crawl when passing a car accident to understand this. However, this fascination goes beyond the side of a highway and enters the realm of tourism. Today, numerous sites of death and disaster attract millions of visitors from all around the world: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Anne Frank's House, Graceland, Oklahoma City, Gettysburg, Vimy Ridge, the Somme, Arlington National Cemetery. The list grows each year as exhibited by the recent creation of an apartheid museum in Johannesburg, South Africa. Due to the increasing popularity of this tourism product, a small number of academics have begun studying the phenomenon. Leading the field are Lennon and Foley who labeled it Dark Tourism, Seaton who coined the term Thanatourism, and Rojek who developed the concept of Black Spots. However, despite ongoing study, there has been a paucity in understanding what actually motivates individuals to sites of dark tourism. Yet understanding motivation is imperative, particularly given the subject and sensitivity of these sites. Some are slowly decaying, and visitors play a large role in their preservation. Subsequently, without proper management, visitor influxes can further deteriorate sites or induce friction with the locals. Knowledge then, also provides administrators the necessary tools to properly manage the varying stakeholders. Although many feel an interest in death and disaster simply stems from morbidity, the range of factors involved extend from an interest in history and heritage to education to remembrance. To begin this study, a list of possible motivations was compiled. Then, to get a better comprehension of these motivations, visitors to the Holocaust Museum Houston were surveyed as a case study. As a commodified, synthetic site of death and atrocity, the museum fits the definitions of a dark tourism site as established by lead academics. Therefore, by asking visitors to the museum what motivated them to the site, the results will hopefully give some acumen into the wants and needs of certain stakeholders. Finally, this research sought to discover if motivation at the museum could shed light on motivation to other sites of dark tourism.
Yuill, Stephanie Marie (2003). Dark tourism: understanding visitor motivation at sites of death and disaster. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from