The attraction of dark destinations and rituals for tourists

All over the world, tourists show an extraordinary interest in cemeteries, haunted hotels, battlefields, war monuments and other dark destinations and rituals. The dark side of tourism was a key topic last week at the first International Dark Tourism Conference hosted by the Tourism Management programme (HTRO) in Diemen.

Dark Tourism is the collective name for all travel to special places that are somehow connected to death, suffering or the apparent macabre. Examples include battlefields, cemeteries, prisons and even so-called ‘Torture Museums’.

The Conference saw more than 80 participants travel to Diemen to exchange knowledge and be brought up to date on the latest developments. They represented universities from the United Kingdom, Japan, the Arab Emirates, Turkey, Ireland, the United States of America, Slovenia, Mexico, Germany, Malta, Belgium and Lithuania, while interest from within the Netherlands was also substantial.

Keynotes and presentations
Professor Philip Stone of the University of Central Lancashire and director of The Institute for Dark Tourism Research (IDTR) shared his vision on dealing with death in daily life and within tourism in general. Doctor Rami Isaac of the NHTV Centre for Sustainability, Tourism and Transport, took a more in-depth look at this phenomenon and how it is regarded in the Middle East and in Palestine in particular. Nine students and alumni from the Tourism Management programme in Diemen and Rotterdam gave a presentation on their completed and ongoing research into dark tourism.

Participants could also take part in dozens of workshops on various themes related to dark tourism. These included a presentation of research results regarding the motivations of visitors of slums in South America and India (slum tourism) or, for instance, a workshop on the balance between commemoration and commercialisation. After the formal segment on the second day of the congress, participants engaged in an afternoon excursion during which they not only visited the ‘dark sides’ of Amsterdam, but also the Amsterdam Dungeon.

Challenging content
The reactions at and during the congress were very enthusiastic. Exchange student Lauren of the Erasmus University Rotterdam found the occasion 'very useful for research purposes with good substantive discussions'. Nijad, who gave a presentation on his research into cemetery tourism in London, spoke of 'a challenging event that motivated me to make the most of the experience'. Teachers Wendy and Bianca stated that 'the fascination with death is only dark if that is how you yourself experience it'.

The Dark Tourism Conference was organised in collaboration with the Institute for Dark Tourism Research (IDTR) and Atlas (Association for Tourism & Leisure Education & Research).

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