History And Essence Of Dark Tourism

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Tourism is currently one of the world’s largest industries in the world and is expected to continue exponentially grow, develop and expand (Tarlow. 2005). The tourism industry, in modern society, is a major environmental, economic and socio-cultural force, that provides a lifestyle for many people. The tourism industry provides plenty of advantages and benefits that develops cultural, political and social relations around the world, as well as funding a considerable amount of economic growth (Meethan, 2001). However, most people don’t understand that these tourist destinations have unpleasant pasts. Tourist destinations are thought to be pleasant place for relaxation, vacation and play; however, most tourist destinations are that where death and tragedy once occurred. A reference by Marcel (2004) recognised this type of tourism and denoted “death makes a holiday”. Various labels have been given to this type of this niche tourist; including, ‘negative sightseeing’ (MacCannell, 1989), ‘Black Spots tourism’ (Rojek, 1993), ‘tragic tourism’ (Lippard, 1999), ‘Thana-tourism’ (Seaton, 1996), and ‘grief tourism’ (O’Neill, 2002; Trotta, 2006). However, the most notable label is ‘dark tourism’, created by Lennon and Foley (2000). In this essay, I will be examining how unpleasant places can be and have been presented through architecture, using examples to support my evaluation. This essay will also identify what makes unpleasant places, the purpose behind people visiting these unpleasant places and finally the acknowledgement and remembrance of these unpleasant places. With reference to this context, dark tourism refers to a type of tourism that covers the visitation of a place where tragedies or deaths has occurred to societies dealing with the culture of humanity (Tarlow, 2005). In contrast to this, Thana-tourism refers to a similar type of tourism whereby an individual travels to a location solely, or partially, motivated by the desire for actual or symbolic encounters with death and enhanced by the person-specific features of death (Seaton, 1996). Both these definitions, “dark tourism” and “Thana-tourism”, are relevant in this essay, as they both have a similar meaning but different interpretations. Dark tourism is the attraction respectively due to the location, while Thana-tourism is based on the behaviours and motivations aspect. As the tourism industry is ever-growing, and with it, dark tourism, I believe it is necessary for people to understand the history, motivation and ethics of these unpleasant places where other people have suffered.

Unpleasant places can still be a point of interest for tourists while still being true to the unpleasant past. In recent years, dark tourism has become seemingly more popular and has received more and more attention (Stone, 2009). Most, if not everyone, to some degree, is a dark tourist, even if you’re unaware of it. Dark tourism is a term, as defined earlier, that covers a vast range of different types of site, that have no or little correlation to each other. This increasingly popular framework and approach too dark tourism has shed light on the painful past of many well-regarded tourist destinations that have been regarded as unpleasant places due to their terrific past. Take, for example, Rottnest Island, located just offshore from the city of Perth, in Western Australia. Rottnest Island is Western Australia’s ‘holiday island’, with a dark past. Rottnest Island is one of Australia’s largest tourist attraction, flocking thousands of tourists to a hotspot unaware of its horrid past. In a contemporary context, Rottnest island has crystal clear water, white sandy beaches, an abundance of vibrant wildlife and an endless amount of activities but behind remains the unpleasant dark past. The Island was used as an Aboriginal prison, incarcerating approximately 4,000 Aboriginal men and boys from all over the former colony, from 1839 until 1931 (Wilkie, 2019). Many of these men were transported with chains around their neck, treated like livestock, for thousands of miles (Melville, 2016). This dark unpleasant past is a direct contradiction to the carefree, relaxed lifestyle it is today. It is said that prisoners were worked ruthlessly in the heat with inadequate clothes and later chained together at night (Melville, 2016). Hundreds, if not thousands of Aboriginal men died as a result of torture, execution and disease at this prison (Melville, 2016). In addition to this inhumane lifestyle, a European settler by the name of “Henry Vincent” would have a street and cottage named after him, with plaques in his honour, although he allowed Aboriginal prisoners to die under his watch (Melville, 2016). How is it that he is commemorated but not the Aboriginal Prisoners? Despite this tragic and inhumane past, being Australia’s largest mass burial site, Rottnest island is still catering for accommodation for tourists. This depicts the direct contradiction of this island, being one of beauty on arrival and the devastating, dark and embarrassingly invisible past. Further reinforcing this, tourists would use campsites to camp on the bones of hundreds of Aboriginal prisoners buried beneath the site until closure. Imagine how it could be, that the largest known Aboriginal burial ground in Australia, was allowed to be a camping site before it was shut down? In general, there has been a considerable effort of remembering and acknowledging past trauma and pain, allowing a place of interest, such as Rottnest Island, to still being true to its past. Thus, an unpleasant place can still be a place of interest for tourists, as long as the past is acknowledged and recognised.

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Furthermore, in today’s society, these deemed unpleasant places allow for tourist experiences that have allowed for their painful past to be unrecognised and even unknown. Tourism associated with sites of death or disease is garnering rapid growth (Foley and Lennon (1999), whether this is because of the past and history or the tourist behaviour and motivations, I believe it is relevant determining tourists experiences in unpleasant places. Smith (1996) found that, in her research on war and tourism, memorabilia of warfare and related products form the largest single tourist attraction in the world, despite the tragedies and horrid incidents which occurred at these unpleasant places. Visiting sites of death and disaster has become a worldwide phenomenon, for many tourists around the world, due to the souvenirs and memorabilia, concealing the unpleasant past. In addition to this, the demand for dark tourism continues to increase, becoming more versatile, allowing the past to be unrecognised and forgotten (Stone, 2006). However, besides the matter of death, some tourists are purely interested in the sites culture, history or simply entertainment, which is why millions of people are visiting places of dark tourism (Stone, 2006). An example of this is Fremantle Prison, located south from Perth, Western Australia in Fremantle. Fremantle Prison is one of Western Australia’s major cultural heritage sites and tourist attractions with an unpleasant past. The prison was built by convicts and used as a place of incarceration for 139 years, from around 1852 to 1991, before being shut down as an operating maximum security gaol. In a contemporary modern context, tourists are able to experience guides of the prison on a range of interesting tours. Tourists can experience daytime tours, understanding convict and prison life. Tourists can also experience tunnel tours, descending below the prison to explore a labyrinth of tunnels by boat and foot. Tourists are also able to experience night-time tours, formally known as ‘ghost tours’, learning about the history of the prison. In addition to its guided tours, the prison also features exhibitions in the prison gallery, including memorabilia and souvenirs. Fremantle Prison does well to commemorate the unpleasant past, by providing history and allowing for the past to be recognised. Despite Fremantle Prison having numerous guides, experiences and memorabilia, it allows for the painful past to be recognised. Thus, I believe it is not only, architectures role in tourism to help inform tourists about the unpleasant past, but also tourists to educate themselves and understand the terrible past of these unpleasant places.

Finally, unpleasant places can always be ‘truthfully’ interpreted no matter how painful the past is to people. Unpleasant places can always be truthfully presented, as long as the site or place recognises the painful past. Due to the fact that dark tourism is a growing form of tourism, it is necessary to understand the past to visit places where other people have suffered (Stone 2009). This indicates that no matter how painful the past is to people; the past should always be presented truthfully. Being born in South Africa, I think its only fair for the last example to be Robben Island Prison, located in the waters of Table Bay, South Africa (Johnson, 2012). The Robben Island Prison was a maximum-security prison, built-in 1961 and operated until 1991, which incarcerated Nelson Mandela, for over 18 years, and several of his followers, under the harshest conditions. The island prison was used as a political prison, incarcerating enemies of the apartheid. In 1997, three years after apartheid fell, the prison was turned into the Robben Island Museum (Johnson, 2012). Those imprisoned by the corrupt political regime would later engage in peace and reconciliation with its past. This allowed tourists to understand and acknowledge the painful past. This depicts the truthful interpretation of the past, as tourists could understand and reconcile with the dark unpleasant past. In a contemporary context, tourists can now take a guided tour around Robben Island with the transport of buses and ferries. Tourists are educated and informed about the history and past of this site, allowing the unpleasant place to be truthfully interpreted. As a result, it is clear to see that although places such as Rottnest Island, Fremantle Prison and Robben Island Prison can have unpleasant pasts, the truth can and will always be presented no matter how painful the past is to people. Relating back to the discussed arguments, unpleasant places can always and will always be truly represented no matter how painful the past. It’s not about preserving or preventing tourists from visiting these places, but rather bringing light to or revealing the unpleasant past of these places, which in turn educates, informs tourists while acknowledging the past.


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