Some say it’s morbid. It's admittedly a bit voyeuristic. But like drivers slowing to gawk at a horrible accident, the fundamental human urge to get a first-hand perspective leads some tourists toward a profound need to personally witness the aftermath of disaster and tragedy. This form of travel, known as "dark tourism", involves traveling to sites associated with death.
From Katrina's destructive wake in New Orleans to the Texas School Book Depository Building in Dallas, to the Dakota in New York City, witnessing places where loss of life took place has become, for many people, an integral part of experiencing a destination. Perhaps the most prominent current example of the drawing power of disaster sites is ground zero in lower Manhattan.
By the end of 2011, just over three months after its public debut, the 9/11 Memorial had already welcomed over one million visitors, according to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, the nonprofit organization in charge of operation of the memorial and museum at the World Trade Center.
In the weeks and months immediately after the September 11 attacks, large crowds would flock to the site, gazing in silent disbelief as they witnessed the destruction and cleanup efforts. For more than a decade afterwards, visitors continued to respectfully observe as a gigantic hole, in the ground and in the hearts of people around the world, was slowly transformed by concrete and builders.
In the world of dark tourism, what may seem respectful or acceptable to some might be appalling to others. For example, a Milwaukee company's plan for tours inspired by serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was met with charges of insensitivity.
Dark tourism can sometimes skate perilously close to the line separating mere tourism and disrespecting the dead. Cemetery ghost tours are an example of this. Many people, especially families of the deceased, often don't believe anybody should have fun at the expense of death.
Keeping in mind the sensitivity this type of tourism requires, dark tourism can and should be executed respectfully and educationally, not in any way that trivializes or makes light of the loss of life that occurred.
Is a destination on your travel list this year considered dark tourism? If so, let us know your travel plans and why you have chosen it by leaving comments below.