Winter 2022

LUXLIFE MAGAZINE | 41 40 Winter 2022 Aug22190 When one thinks of tourism as an industry, often it conjures images of sandy beaches, pristine resorts, and colourful loungers. But what about those travellers who seek something different, something off the beaten track, something with more depth? As the successor of the ‘disaster tourism’ phenomena, dark tourism has found its resurgence with the young and curious; indeed, today it is often a way for people to explore themes like death and tragedy in a safe and educational manner. But it does bring up the question of what ethical engagement with such things looks like, and how it can be done. A Guide to Dark Tourism for the Responsible Traveller This is not a new phenomenon – in fact, one of the original corporate providers of dark tourism was the renowned travel agency Thomas Cook in the mid-1800s, a company that would take spectators to public executions – but it is a phenomenon that has grown and changed as significantly as the market hankering after it has. Whilst in many ways, the impulse behind the lure of dark tourism remains constant, the way in which people consume it has changed greatly. With many people finding themselves fascinated by the concept of their own mortality and drawn to be curious about more taboo subjects, the market of people interested in going on ghost tours or visiting world war battlefields is healthier than ever; that being said, the market has also become much more self-critical and conscientious over the years, sparking discussions over the proper ways to engage. It is important to say here that ostensibly, yes, there are good and bad ways to engage with dark tourism. However, the impetus for creating respectful dark tourism is not just on the traveller, but also on the people who are able to create the attractions surrounding a morbid tourism hotspot, as they are ultimately the ones who then get to decide what perspectives are championed and what the desired takeaway of the guests will be. To present a couple of examples of this, firstly, I will give an example of this being used well and to good effect. A very recent example of a ‘dark tourism’ experience is what the Tower of London are currently running as a Bonfire Night special production, made topical as the anniversary of the gunpowder plot fast approaches. Written by Olivier nominee Danny Robins and creatively directed by multi BAFTA award-nominated Hannah Price, it presents an empathic and deeply real portrayal of the suffering of the persecution of Catholics in 1605, showing the desperation and suffering that led Guy Fawkes and his group of revolutionarily minded people to try and blow up Parliament. Whilst the tone is campy and high-drama, it is also raw and grounding, and doesn’t glorify the people who put a stop to the scheme; nor does it suggest that the revolutionaries were evil. In fact, visitors are invited to choose which side to sympathise with, and since it’s interactive, the small groups people go in with are allowed to discuss which side they’d like to stand behind, even though the result of the interactive Layered Reality event is set in stone with the prevention of the fateful explosion. The at-first somewhat bemusing choice of Tom Felton as Guy Fawkes also carries incredibly well, as the young actor pulls off the role with fervour and dedication in a way that viewers are invited to empathise with. In contrast, in 2015, another London based exhibit about a grim piece of history made a name for itself for all the wrong reasons. Architect Andrew Waugh, the founder and director of Waugh Thistleton Architects, was horrified when what he believed was a plan Tourism, by its very nature, involves the exploration of places that are different from one’s home in landscape, culture, or climate. Indeed, for many, this is the draw of travel in the first place, but with this in mind, it is important to recognise that there is a certain responsibility to be a conscientious and respectful visitor that every traveller must square with. For many trips such as resort vacations or beachside excursions, this isn’t a massive issue, but for trips that explore poignant historical sites or regions of cultural significance to a culture or people, it certainly is. And in no case is this truer than in cases of ‘dark tourism’. for a museum of women’s history turned out to be nothing but ‘salacious, misogynist rubbish’ (Waugh, Building Design), an attraction that glorified and sensationalised the murder of the young women who died at the hands of Jack the Ripper. Founded by Mark Palmer Edgcumbe, ‘The Jack the Ripper Museum’ was not the first manifestation of his interest in the Ripper, but it is certainly now his most infamous, due to the way he co-opted the tragic deaths of several young women without focusing on their actual stories at all. This, critically, gives a good case study in how not to run a dark tourism attraction. On the whole, there is absolutely nothing wrong with some campy drama in the explanation of historical tragedy – such as what Layered Reality are achieving with their Gunpowder Plot exhibit above – but there is everything wrong with treating the fear of the victims as something fun and kitschy. Thus, ‘The Jack the Ripper Museum’ was quickly closed, and it was widely agreed by the dark tourism community that turning murder sites into selfie spots where you’re followed by the screams of Jack’s victims on loop is in very poor taste. So what, if anything, can one do from a tourist perspective to ensure that you are engaging in dark tourism in a respectful manner? Well, in essence, it all boils down to one thing; do your research. Before you pick a dark tourism spot, whether it’s a patently traumatic German concentration camp such as Bergen Belsen or a place that’s only been made ‘dark’ by serious media misinterpretation and tragic loss such as the Aokigahara forest in Japan, it’s an important part of the traveller’s due diligence to research what makes a site ‘dark’. Forums, articles, travel blogs, Instagram, it’s all at a traveller’s fingertips to give them an idea of what the atmosphere of a place is, and how to act respectfully during your trip. Finding out these rules and following them to the letter not only helps a traveller to have a better and more fulfilling experience, but it also shows the people for whom a place is more than just a place to visit that you understand it is more than just ‘an attraction’. ‘Dark tourism’ destinations are often inextricably tied to cultural or historical events that involve human cruelty or loss, and so to be flippant about it is simply grossly inappropriate. One of the most important of these rules to find out and follow is whether photography is allowed. If it isn’t, do not take pictures. Turn off your phone. And just live the experience. This isn’t to say that one should be vilified for their trauma responses; if you go to a dark tourism destination and your reaction to being faced with death and horror is nervous laughter, or terrible dad jokes, or having a cry, then all of those things are totally valid, but that doesn’t take away from your duty as a responsible traveller to hold yourself accountable. Remember: you can leave an attraction. The people who carry the burden of the repercussions of what makes a space a ‘dark tourism destination’ often cannot.