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.”
In my presentation, I argued that, in the absence of strong government policies on tourism and culture, and as public sector funding and control of regeneration reduces, there is an opportunity for heritage groups (like the fantastic Sevenoaks Society, who presented their work on local lists at the event) to influence how their local heritage is presented to tourists and to influence the nature of local economic development.
My main point was that tourists want fantastic, memorable experiences. If heritage groups can present their local heritage to tourists as interesting stories and use exciting narratives, then heritage can be a great resource for regeneration. This might mean them becoming comfortable with the inauthentic heritagisation of their areas, but seaside towns like Whitby and Blackpool show that this can be highly effective in bringing in tourists and generating economic impacts.
The vardo, which has been completely restored, has had wooden panels added to it depicting scenes of traditional Kent life carved by Martin Brockman and students from schools in Canterbury, Kent have been involved at all stages of the project.
This is the first project of its kind that I am aware of my home county of Kent in the UK. The history of Kent has always involved movements of people, whether they were part of highly mobile communities like the Romany, or the numerous temporary populations that have accompanied the hop-picking season, or the ebb and flow of seaside tourism. More recently, Kent has found itself to be a point of entry for migrants seeking admission to the UK.
I recommend exploring the Heritage Matters website and making use of some of the intriguing audio recordings you will find there, to get a glimpse into some of Kent’s hidden histories.