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The growing trend of dark tourism

05 July 2022

Why do people want to visit sites of atrocities and natural disasters? It’s a question University of Canterbury’s Professor Girish Prayag has been researching in his study of dark tourism.


The Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial is the Crown's official memorial for those killed or seriously injured in the 22 February 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

Visiting such sites, for example those associated with World War I and World War II, is nothing new. But the use of the term dark tourism is more recent.

Professor Prayag says these places can be fully developed tourist attractions or places that people know and associate with significant deaths without necessarily having tourist facilities and amenities.

“As we move into an era of unprecedented climate change with more extreme and devastating impacts of hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, bush fires, there will be more places that will fit under dark tourism and disaster tourism spots.” 

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

He says there are many reasons people want to visit such sites, from remembrance, to learning about the event, the historical facts, curiosity, word of mouth from other travellers, a sense of moral obligation, or connecting with one’s own heritage.

“Dark tourism can be very controversial for communities; some want to see those sites, others don’t as they can be a stark reminder of the past and prevent some communities from moving forward.

“Using suffering of people as a way to market a place can be highly political as well. While tourists often don’t see it that way, for local communities such sites are not always welcomed although others see it as a personal space for reflection on the meaning of life and remembering the lost lives but also a way to celebrate those who survived,” Professor Prayag says.

In the latest research, based on data collected in 2013 and 2014, Professor Prayag and his team focused on the Canterbury earthquakes and the sites most associated with it.

“There are several reasons they visit; remembering those who have lost their lives, remembering the event, or both. For others, they provide a space for reflection on the meaning of life. It can remind people that they’re lucky to be alive or haven’t had to deal with significant insurance issues.

“Some people say they feel close to the ones they’ve lost and spend time there to reflect on life. Others mention it makes them aware that life should be lived to the fullest. All these are ideas embedded in mortality salience. The sites, become one of the means to cope with the earthquake.”

Professor Prayag says that for international visitors, sites such as the CTV building, and the white chairs, give a glimpse of the disaster and its impact.

It’s stories like this that reflect the University of Canterbury Business School’s meaningful research, empowered students, and quality education, which are all strengths that have led to EQUIS reaccreditation. Explore all that’s on offer when you study or engage with the triple crown accredited UC Business School here – the University of Canterbury school that’s in the business of making a difference.

Professor Girish Prayag is a researcher in the University of Canterbury’s Business School

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