January 16, 2022


The Trip Encyclopedia

Is It OK To Visit ‘Dark Tourism’ Sites?

My Late Deals tackles the sensitive subject of tourists visiting places associated with death and extreme suffering.


An abandoned Ferris wheel  in Pripyat, Ukraine, a well-known symbol of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster
Picture Credits: Pixabay.com


With the announcement that Uganda is looking to tap into dark tourism to boost visitor numbers and Ukraine’s Chernobyl on track to become 2019’s surprise hit tourism destination, after the HBO miniseries, My Late Deals looks into why people visit ‘Dark Tourism’ sites and whether it’s OK to visit them.


What is dark tourism?


The term ‘Dark Tourism’ was introduced by J.J. Lennon and M. Foley, they described it as “the attraction of visitors to tourism sites associated with recent and historic incidences of death and disaster.”


Well known dark tourism spots include Auschwitz – Birkenau, Chernobyl and Ground Zero.


Why do people visit dark tourism sites?


According to a study in 2011 by Brian, Poria & Oren, motivations for visiting dark tourism sites can be grouped into four factors.

  1. “See it to believe it” – those interested in seeing the site out of a need to believe that such atrocities happened.
  2. “Learning and understanding” – those interested in being educated about the atrocities, to gain a better understanding.
  3. “Famous death tourist attractions” – those with a general interest in sites of death.
  4. “Emotional heritage experience” – those with a desire to connect to his/her heritage and have an emotional experience.


Is it OK to visit murder sites and disaster zones?


My Late Deals survey results show that 55.6% of those polled do not think it’s OK to visit dark tourism spots. Be it Chernobyl or Auschwitz – Birkenau, a little over half wouldn’t consider the possibility.


Interestingly, 44.4% think it is OK.


Travel writer Kendall Hill explains to World Nomads why it’s OK to visit these destinations.

“We should be visiting these sites to remind us of the events that led up to, for example, the Holocaust, and how to prevent that happening again. We can’t be responsible custodians of the future without understanding our past.”


Mark Watson, executive director of the ethical travel campaign group, Tourism Concern explains to The Guardian why he believes there’s no clear cut answer to whether dark tourism is right or wrong.

“People go for a huge variety of reasons, so it’s very difficult to assess their motivations. At places like Auschwitz and the Rwandan Genocide Memorial, people go to understand what happened and are genuinely moved by it. You’ve got to look at the impact on the communities and understand the local sensitivities.”


Run ethically, dark tourism can help communities badly affected by the tragedy. But, several sites are being run purely for profit rather than to educate and support the affected communities and these sites should be avoided altogether.


In October 2012 residents from New Orleans that were badly affected by Hurricane Katrina took a stand against tours that had been happening since the disaster in 2005.


It was also reported that a coach of Chinese visitors was seen to stop near the Grenfell Tower site with passengers photographing the building despite warnings that the site is not a ‘tourist attraction’, sparking an immediate angry backlash from Londoners.


If you are planning on visiting a dark tourism site, research ethical tour companies, non-profit organizations and companies that give something back to the communities affected. Avoid unethical sites and organizations run purely for profit.