Thoughts on how to approach disaster tourism

“Each person has a different experience to take away”

Before the salvage operation of the Costa Concordia began, a large number of tourists travelled to the site near Isola del Giglio just to see the wreckage. It is just the latest in the trend of an emerging travel niche known to many as “disaster tourism” or “dark tourism.”

It is not a new phenomenon – Pompeii and Gettysburg have been popular tourist destinations for decades if not centuries. Locations of wartime tragedies such as Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima and Auschwitz-Birkenau are solemn and moving memorials.

Disaster tourism is often officially encouraged, bringing in cash for devastated areas, as officials in New Orleans have said since Hurricane Katrina. But too soon after the event can be controversial, for example a local tourism agency publishing a map of the hardest-hit neighbourhoods in Joplin, Missouri, after the 2011 tornadoes there.

The site IndependentTraveler interviews Brigitte Sion, PhD, editor of the forthcoming book “Death Tourism: Disaster Sites as Recreational Landscape”.

“I think that voyeurism is a marginal motivation,” she says. “The benefits are multiple, but each person has a different experience [to] take away.”

As sites she recommends people to visit, she answers: “From an educational perspective, if you want to understand a country’s history better, I recommend the S-21 prison and the Killing Fields in Phnom-Penh, Cambodia; the ESMA and Memory Park in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Treblinka or Auschwitz in Poland; and the Hiroshima Peace Museum in Japan.”


[pictured: Cabinets filled with skulls disinterred from the grounds of Tuol Sleng prison, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Cambodia]


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