Dark Tourism and World Heritage Sites

Our new paper, on Dark Tourism and UNESCO World Heritage Sites (WHS), has just been published in the Journal of Heritage Tourism. In the paper, we report on research that we carried out in Greenwich, London, with stakeholders of the Maritime Greenwich WHS. We found that stakeholders were broadly supportive of tourism development in the area, but had very negative views of dark tourism and didn’t support the idea of developing dark tourism products or service in Greenwich.

Our Greenwich campus

We suggest that, for anyone considering developing dark tourism in complex, urban WHS, real consideration should be given to working with the very diverse set of stakeholders that sites like these necessarily have. We were surprised that our respondents didn’t tend to focus on the multiple and often difficult histories of a site that is so intimately tied to war, conflict and the British Empire, but given the recent sensationalist media on dark tourism that tends to emphasise shock value, this perhaps made sense. You can read the abstract below and the full paper is here.

“Dark tourism has attracted increasing academic attention, but the extent to which it exists as a separate form of tourism from heritage tourism is not yet clear.  Despite the growth of UNESCO World Heritage Site designations, little research has considered the relationship between dark tourism and World Heritage Sites.  Because the development of dark tourism is beset with ethical concerns, heritage professionals can have negative perceptions about the acceptability or attractiveness of it for the sites that they are involved in managing.  This research used a qualitative Delphi Panel method to evaluate stakeholder perceptions of the potential development of dark tourism to the Greenwich Maritime World Heritage Site in London, United Kingdom.  The findings show that stakeholders are broadly supportive of tourism to the site and positive about future tourism growth.  Despite this, they did not support the development of dark tourism to the site because it was perceived as inauthentic, tacky and sensationalist.  In order to address this issue, recommendations are made that future attempts to develop dark tourism at WHS should involve enhancing the knowledge of stakeholders about dark tourism, and of the resources within their sites that could be included in a dark tourism offer to tourists.”

Interpreting History Conference

On 19th September, I’ll be speaking at the Interpreting History conference at Alexandra Palace in London.  This looks set to be an excellent event, with a focus on how to interpret historical sites and stories for visitors and tourists.  I’ll be talking about dark tourism, and ways in which destinations can interpret their dark histories to attract this market.  You can view the whole programme and book here.

Alexandra Palace
Alexandra Palace- the conference venue

Curated by the England’s Historic Cities consortium, the host of this one day conference will be Dr Jonathan Foyle, architectural historian and self-confessed “historic buildings obsessive” whose TV appearances uncover those stories that makes history relevant to today’s audiences. Jonathan will be joined by a raft of UK and international speakers from leading visitor attractions, tourist boards, heritage bodies, and companies which are currently leading the agenda in digital and interpretation innovation.

Alongside the conference, there will be an exhibition to allow participants to see demonstrations of or to experience for themselves new interpretive technologies and to discuss in depth with their developers.  And there will also be an opportunity for everyone to experience the £27m renovation of the Theatre and East Court at Alexandra Palace, this wonderful Victorian landmark.

Dark Cities wins ‘Highly Commended’ Emerald Literati Award

Our recent paper on dark tourism, ‘Dark cities: a dark tourism index for Europe’s tourism cities, based on the analysis of DMO websites’ has been awarded a ‘highly commended’ award in the 2019 Emerald Literati awards.  This means that the paper is free to download for the next six months.  You can read the abstract of the paper below:

 

Dark Events

My latest article, written together with two colleagues from Turistica in Slovenia, has just been published in the journal ‘Event Management’.  The article brings together a lot of the ideas and concepts from dark tourism and puts them into a critical events studies context, to propose a classification for ‘dark events’ – events linked to tragedy and suffering.  We suggest that the concept of ‘darkness’, as it has been applied in tourism and leisure studies, is also useful for understanding certain types of events.  Our paper argues that the ‘darkest’ events come with the greatest management challenges, and proposes a model to help us to identify which events are at the ‘darkest’ in these terms.

vrsic-photo.-@mirocerar
A commemorative events held to remember Russian POWs who died during the first World War, on the Isonzo Front, in Slovenia                                                                        Photo: FB dr. Miro Cerar – uradni profil

The article is based on the analysis of commemorative events in the countries of the former Yugoslavia and uses examples from a number of Western Balkan countries.

You can read the abstract of our article below:

Dark events: Commemoration and Collective Memory in the Former Yugoslavia

This article develops a new understanding of the relative darkness of commemorative events that are linked to tragedy and suffering, by using examples of the many such events that take place within the countries of the former state of Yugoslavia. In order to do this, the article draws from the field of memory studies and, in particular, the concept of collective memory. A sample of commemorative events from the former Yugoslavia was investigated and qualitative fieldwork was carried to analyze them in terms of their role in collective memory. The analysis of these events allowed for the creation of a new scale of the relative darkness of commemorative events. The darkest commemorative events, which draw on autobiographical memory and hold a high degree of contemporary political significance, are judged to be the most dark and to present specific management problems because of this.

Key words: Commemorative events; Dark tourism; Collective memory; Yugoslavia; Balkans

Dark Cities: A ranking of Europe’s top tourism cities in terms of dark tourism

With my colleagues Raymond Powell and Christopher Barton, we’ve just had a new paper published in the International Journal of Tourism Cities.  In the paper, we analyse the content of the websites for the Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) of each of Europe’s top ten most visited cities.  We carried out content analysis using key words and concepts associated with dark tourism, in order to see whether the DMOs were promoting dark tourism as part of their offer, and whether this was related to their success as a destination.

“Dark tourism can be defined as tourism associated with the visitation of sites which have death, tragedy or suffering as an ingredient in the mix of visitor motivations in some way or other” (Powell et al 2018: 2)

We found that there were very significant differences in terms of that what extent each of these destinations promoted their dark tourism offer on their tourist websites, but that this didn’t seem to be obviously connected to their success in attracting tourists.

darkness ranking table
Source: Powell et al 2018

This was only a very small sample of destination websites, and although it does at first glance appear that the more ‘dark’ you are, the less visited you are, it is difficult to be sure of this at this stage of the research.  What was clear from our data, however, was that European city destinations vary enormously in terms of how their promote their dark tourism offer.

Our next piece of research on this project will look at a larger sample of the top 100 city tourism destinations in the world, with a more sophisticated content analysis methodology.   Recent research suggests that the dramatic growth in academic research into dark tourism hasn’t been mirrored by its acceptance in the tourism industry.  We aim to look at this from the DMO perspective, to discover whether this is the case for city tourism.

Dark tourism: Cemetery tourism

I was interviewed briefly early in the year for the industry publication, funeral service times.  You can read the final article here, or by clicking the image below.  Along with a colleague, Raymond Powell, I’ve had a book chapter published before on dark tourism and we have a journal article in the International Journal of Tourism Cities coming out on the topic of dark tourism and European cities, scheduled for the start of 2018.

The star of this industry article however, is Sheldon Goodman, the co-Founder of Cemetery Club, who spoke at an event hosted by our Tourism Research Centre in May. Sheldon gives an excellent account of cemetery tourism and the cemetery tours that he leads.  If you’re looking for an interesting case study to support your own research into dark tourism, Sheldon’s work is great place to start.

Dark Tourism – Free public event in Greenwich – 4th May 2017

Through our Tourism Research Centre at the University of Greenwich, we’re hosting a free, public event on Dark Tourism, on 4th May.  This will be from 5-7pm and will end with a guided walking tour of the dark history of our Old Royal Naval College campus in London.

“Dark tourism can be defined as tourism associated with the visitation of sites which have death, tragedy or suffering as their main theme” (Powell & Kennell 2016:304)

Western tourists look at Khmer Rouge victims (HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)

We have three different presentations at the event, from:

This is a free event, but places are limited.  To register please email businessevents@gre.ac.uk with your name and contact details and outlining any special dietary/disability requirements.

This event is linked to the forthcoming special issue of the International Journal of Tourism Cities, on Dark Tourism and Cities, being edited by John Lennon and Raymond Powell.

Dark Cities?

This is a presentation based on research that my colleague Raymond Powell and I have been carrying out into Dark Tourism in Europe.  Raymond gave the presentation at the 2nd Annual Conference of the Association of Cultural and Digital Tourism in Athens, Greece.  Dark tourism can be defined as tourism associated with the visitation of sites which have death, tragedy or suffering as their main theme. Commonly such visits are conducted with commemoration, education or entertainment in mind (Stone, 2005). Europe has an abundance of such sites, both real and imagined, which offer ample opportunities to experience dark tourism in all of these ways if so desired. However, they are rarely conceptualised as dark products, and as such categorisation of individual attractions is, at the moment, confused. In the paper that we presented, we begin the process of ranking European cities in terms of how ‘dark’ their tourism offer is.  We hope to develop this over the next couple of years, firstly by carrying out some case studies to verify this initial ranking process.  You can read the abstract of our paper below.

 

Despite the recent growth of research into dark tourism (Dale & Robinson, 2011; Lennon & Foley, 2000; Stone, 2013; Tarlow, 2005) and the growth of the dark tourism market (Biran & Hyde, 2013; Stone 2005; Stone & Sharpley, 2008), there has been little interest shown in understanding the relationship between dark tourism and urban tourism (Page & Hall 2002). This paper presents the initial findings of a research project that investigates the dark tourism products offered by European cities. A series of keywords were developed following a review of the dark tourism literature and this was used carry out a content analysis of the Destination Marketing Organisation websites for Europe’s ten most visited cities.  The content analysis used Stone’s (2006) Dark Tourism Continuum to evaluate the dark tourism products offered in each destination and to present a descriptive overview of Europe’s city-based dark tourism offer.   The paper concludes that there are a wide range of dark tourism products available to urban tourists in Europe, but that these are rarely conceptualised as such.  The mixture of ‘light’ and ‘dark’ dark tourism products presents difficulties in categorisation and standardisation of the urban tourism offer, but this is a potential area of new product development for DMOs across Europe.