Dark Tourism And Ethical Issues Tourism Essay


The research project aimed to do a critical analysis of the ethical issues of dark tourism. Six research objectives were set out to help achieve this aim. In the process of gathering relevant information on this topic, an analysis of dark tourism throughout the years will be done, followed by the commitment of different authors.

Furthermore, by examine in depth both the consumers’ and providers’ point of views to further understand the ethical dilemma of dark tourism, the research project will highlight the main problems that occur within this sector of tourism.

Secondary research has been chosen as a main research method. A wide variety of literature was gathered on the concept of culture and tourism by using a snowball sampling of secondary literature. This type of sampling was carried out by using the authors’ list of references to highlight other articles that might be of relevance.

The findings indicated that, it may be possible to state that ethical issues will always continue to exist around dark tourism, as long dark tourism itself exists too.

Recommendation has been given on the importance of the consideration of the ethicalities of dark tourism. As conclusion indicated, ethical issues cannot be understated, and both consumers and providers may want to work together, if in the future, we still would like to know about our history through the form of tourism instead through textbooks and education.


Hall (1998) states that tourism is the world’s largest industry, and it is expected to continue to grow, develop and maintain. The tourist industry is a major economic, environmental and socio-cultural force, and it becomes a lifestyle for millions of people on our planet. Its beneficial effect on the development of political, social, cultural relations and international relations on a global scale has become an obvious fact to all countries around the world. (Meethan, 2001)

Over the last half century it is seeing that tourists have long been attracted to places or events associated in one way or another with death, disaster and suffering. (Stone, 2009a) All these sites and many more which are similar, are what are called sites for “dark” tourism according to main theorists John Lennon and Malcolm Foley, also known as Thanatourism (Seaton, 1996 – cited in Ryan et al, 2005) and ‘Black Spots’ (Rojek, 1997). This form of tourism is what Seaton (1999) defines is about travelling to sites associated with death, suffering and other tragic events that have become significant tourist destinations. In fact, the act of touristic travel to places of death, war, genocide, assassination and disasters is becoming the most developing branch of tourism during the past years and cultural activity within contemporary society.

At the same time, there is evidence of a greater willingness or desire on the part of tourists to visit dark attractions and the sites of dark events. (Stone, 2009a) For example, thousands of tourists come to Pont de l’Alma Road Tunnel in Paris, to lay flowers and light candles in unofficial memorial of Princess Diana of Wales, where she died in car accident.

With the growing popularity of this kind of tourism within the ‘dark tourism’ market (Tunbridge and Ashworth, 1996), the ethical issues surrounding it will need to be enquired. Ethics plays a role in nearly every business related decision. (Hartman, 1998) With the consumers and providers participating in this growth of phenomenon of dark tourism, as they potentially contrasting ethical perspectives towards dark tourism may be different.

Whereas a providers’ means of preserving history is to charge people to maintain its upkeep, the consumers may see it as money making scheme in the expense of the deceased lives of the site. Whereas the providers’ means of letting people know its history is through interpretation of vulgar images, may seem unethically unpleasant for consumers. The dissertation will focus on the question of ethics in dark tourism, thereby advancing knowledge and understanding of dark tourism itself.


The aim of the project is a critical analysis of the ethical issue of dark tourism. Whether the death could be sold and consumed throw dark attractions and national tragedies.


To define Dark Tourism

To define the concept of ethics

To examine in depth both the consumers’ and providers’ point of views to further understand the ethical dilemma of dark tourism.

To use Stone (2006)’s ‘shades’ of darkness spectrum as a tool for measuring different levels of dark tourism sites

To establish a conceptual ethical framework for the study of selling provocative narratives of national tragedy in heritage situations

To suggest recommendations on the ethical issues


Despite the long history of dark tourism and evidence of travel to sites associated with death, the academic attention on this phenomenon has recently appeared. As a result, a number of fundamental questions with respect to dark tourism remain unanswered. (Stone, 2009a)

This topic has been chosen due to a lack of research carried out on ethical and moral issues of dark tourism. The project can be useful to gain more knowledge into the topic of dark tourism.

The study of dark tourism is important for a number of reasons. It can be used for educational purposes of wider social interest or for means of enjoyment. In relation to this Stone.R (2009, p.7) states:

“… Dark tourism provides the opportunity for tourists to experience ‘playful’ houses of horror, discover places of pilgrimage such as the graves or death sites of famous people or visit sites of major disasters or atrocities…”

Nevertheless, all these attractions require a deep understanding within cultural, social, historical and political context, effective interpretation and development. Otherwise the nature of dark tourism, in particular, the debates and conflicts it represent, will point to a number of issues that demand examination and understanding, such as ethics and morality.

Whether people visit these sites for remembrance, education or entertainment purposes, there will be one dilemma relating to many dark attractions: if it is ethical and moral to sell, promote or offer death for touristic consumption. For example, millions of tourists stop alongside with those, who mourning the loss of loved ones, to see where the World Trade Center once stood in New York.

In order to research the dilemma of the ethics and morality of dark tourism, it is necessary to realise that dark tourism is fascinating, emotive and provocative and it is important to explore many features of dark tourism, which may be perceived unethical by some people.

Stone (2009a) states:

“…Consequently, the ethics of dark tourism are perhaps part of the broader research agenda. Ultimately, from this research a fuller understanding of dark tourism shall be made, and thus knowledge of the phenomenon advanced. Naturally, anyone researching dark tourism should consider the ethics of their research, in particular how data is both gathered and presented…”

Furthermore a case study will be conducted in order to have a closer look at the situation and the major problems occurring regarding ethical issues of dark tourism.

In addition, the researcher is originally interested in dark tourism phenomenon. For the past 2 years the researcher has visited the numerous places of death and disaster such as Chernobyl, and has noticed that it is becoming increasingly popular. The researcher also found out that, for 2 years there are numerous quantity of debates on particular dilemma, which will be analysed in the dissertation.

It is hoped that this study will have an impact on understanding dark tourism. In addition, it is also hoped that this project will draw more attention to ethical issues and provide a new point of view for those, who does not accept ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ of dark sites or attractions.

Literature Review

Roberts (2004, p.73) defines a literature review as, “…locating, analysing, synthesising and interpreting previous research…” This section will be used to establish theoretical framework, identify models and studies and define key terminology in relation to dark tourism and ethics. All research that has been conducted will be presented within this section. An in-depth review of the literature has been done in order to gather relevant information on dark tourism itself and ethical issues throughout the years. The literature matrix illustrates the main areas which are perceived to be the most important in relation to the topic of dark tourism ethical issues. By creating a literature review matrix, it would help the researcher contrast and compare the author’s work easily. As a result by carrying out a detailed review of the literature it could possibly identify important questions, key issues and noticeable gaps within the current knowledge on the topic.

Dark Tourism: Definitions

Only in recent years that it has been together referred to as dark tourism, travel to places associated with death, disaster and destruction has occurred as long as people have been able to travel. In many cases there is no clear definition of this tourism niche.

Although, the term ‘dark tourism’ was firstly created by Foley and Lennon (1996a,b). For Foley and Lennon, the term ‘dark tourism’ relates primarily to ‘the presentation and consumption (by visitors) of real and commodi¬ed death and disaster sites’ (1996a:198); a broad de¬nition later re¬ned by their assertion that dark tourism is ‘an intimation of post-modernity’ (Lennon and

Foley 2000:11).

At the same time, another terminology has been applied to the phenomenon. Seaton (1996) refers to death-related tourist activity as ‘thanatourism’, while other labels include ‘morbid tourism’ (Blom, 2000), Rojek (1993) offered a ‘Black Spot tourism’ definition, ‘grief tourism’ and ‘milking the macabre’ (Dann, 1994:61).

Nevertheless, there is a factor, which is common to all these terms of tourism. It is all about association, in one form or another, between a tourism site, attraction or experience and death, disaster of suffering. As a result, definitions of dark tourism focus on connection between tourism and death. Tarlow (2005:48), for example, gives identification for dark tourism as “visitations to places where tragedies or historically noteworthy death has occurred and that continue to impact our lives”, a definition that aligns dark tourism somewhat barely to certain sites and hints at particular motives. Miles (2002) states that, however it excludes many dark sited and attractions related to, while not necessarily the site of, death and disaster.

Therefore, for the purposes of this research project, the author will define dark tourism, according to Stone (2006, a) simply and generally as ‘the act of travel to sites associated with death, suffering and the seemingly macabre’.


Stone (2006,a) states that ethics and the morality of selling provocative and ‘sensitive’ narrative through heritage to the touring and visiting community is more established and documented problem of dark tourism.

Ethics have been conceptualised as a set of rules and principles, concerning ‘rightful’ conduct based on our most deeply held values, the things we most cherish and the things we most despise.(Lieberman, 2000). The term can also refer to the systematic study of way of thinking about ‘how we ought to behave’ and finding a rational way of ‘how we ought to live’.

Ethics and morality suggest a set of duties that require subordination of natural desires in order to obey the ‘moral law’ (Singer, 1994). The 20th century saw philosophers approaching the problem of the origin of ethics as something unreachable. Among the most publicised conceptual thinkers in the field of ethics have been (Singer, 1994:18):

Thrasymachus ( 4th century) and the thesis that ethics are imposed on the weak by the strong;

Socrates (4th century) and the thesis that the ruler is not concerned with his own interests, but with that of the subject;

Hobbes (17th century) and his statement that ethics give the ruler a right to to command and to be complied;

Nietzsche (19th century) who proposed morality is the creation of ‘the herd'(led more fear than hope)

Ethics and Moralisation in Tourism

There are numerous schools of thoughts and opinions, and literature on the board subject of ethics is prevalent. What is more significant in the situation of the dark tourism is suggesting a conceptual ethical framework for the analysis of providing and selling provocative narratives of nationwide tragedy in heritage settings. This study is concerned with two main and obvious parts of ethics and morality as follows:

“Business ethics and the extent to which businesses within the heritage industry which communicate a ‘dark’ narrative to the visiting public consider their practices to be ethical”( Stone, 2006,a)

“Personal morality and the extent to which these often provocative narratives are received and are passable according to the moral principles of visitors from widely varying cultural backgrounds.” ( Stone, 2006,a)

According to Stone (2006,a) the term ‘business ethics’ has been described at the extreme as an oxymoron in the corporate world since some argue that morality, as Butcher ( 2003) states, is “intrinsically absent in capitalist entrepreneurial ventures”. At the moment the issue of business ethics is a conspicuous subject attracting attention from a number of communities of interest, such as consumers, pressure groups and the media (Strange and Kempa, 2003).

According to Crane & Matten (2007), corporate social responsibility is a dominant strand of the converse of business ethics and has been contrived to refer to the implicit process of “communicating a legal and institutional corporate framework within which a duty of care (to people, the environment and employees among others) is implied”.

For dark tourism, it has not been fully elaborated upon in this context since there present different problems in communicating the social responsibility of these types of heritage sites, such as:

The esotericism in the scope of what is morally acceptable to various communities of interest: is there a hierarchical order of care or responsibility that must be demonstrated? Stone (2006, a) provides example of Auschwitz as the most ‘responsible’ way to admit visitors in compliance with the moral and ethical codes of the relatives of prisoners and victims, but also with the moral principles of other visitor types such as Polish visitors, young visitors. Conflicts of interest, according to Ryan et al (2005), are “common in heritage but more morally charged where the narrative is provocative and contested”

Is it ethical to adopt another national tragedy and inculcate it with new national discourse? Cole (1999a) provides this in a context of the United States Holocaust memorial Museum which he disputes ‘Americanises’ European Jewish tragedy, repacking ‘Holocaust’ for American mass consumption in theatre, tourism and heritage.

In general, these discourses of corporate social responsibility are “present in language of many operations thus far defined as being in the dark tourism business”

Stone (2006a) states, that traditionally, tourism ethics “are discussed in the context of tourism as a major economic engine that can wreak havoc on the environment and can negatively temper the influence host communities in destinations imagined as culturally sensitive” Cheong and Miller (2000) discuss tourism ethics in terms of normalising what is acceptable or not acceptable, and “an ‘inspecting gaze’ influenced by the manipulation of imagery in tourism marketing”.

Tourism activity offers a rare, observable form of ethical behaviour. Tourists ‘vote with their feet’ and demonstrate in visiting dark heritage sites that these are morally acceptable spaces to occupy. “Ethical discourses linked to the production and consumption of contested heritage sites are shaped and maintained by many voices” Stone (2006a). The issue of remembering tragedy and oppression in heritage sites and to whom memory is entrusted, is at the centre of academic debate surrounding ‘truth’ and ‘appropriate’ narratives broadcast by dark tourism sites.

Summary of the literature review

Issues in literature review has been addressed which stress the importance of the different definitions to cultural tourism suggested by different authors. The results of this literature review have enabled the author to complete the first objective of the study by demonstrating an understanding of the ethical issues of dark tourism, what dark tourism itself is and what ethical framework is. Using a wide range of modern academic perspectives has helped to illustrate meaning of dark tourism ethics academic perspective, which can be used in the following chapters in reviewing the main findings of the study undertaken. The matrix figure provides a summary of the main points generated by each academic paper and compares and contrasts the various authors’ views.

The matrix figure illustrates the context of cultural tourism referred to in academic papers and books utilized in the literature review. It demonstrates that the opinions of the different authors are both different and similar.


This section of dissertation is going to study the different research methods used within this project. In order to make this research project successful, it is important that appropriate research methods or techniques have to be chosen. The purpose of a methodology is to demonstrate, explain and justify the research methods used in this dissertation. According to Krippendorff (2004) the purpose of a methodology is to help the researcher effectively plan and examine the ‘logic, composition and protocols’ of the research methods that have been used in research project. The researcher will present a summary of the sources of information gathered; a description of the procedure used to obtain information and the various research methods will be discussed. Furthermore, by completing the methodology it will demonstrate how a systematic investigation was applied into the topic of dark tourism.

Choice of Research Design

Secondary Data

Sharp et al. (2002, p139) define two categories of data which are: primary data that the researcher collects through observations, interviews, questionnaires and etc.; and secondary data that have been collected by other previous researchers.

As the author of this dissertation has already mentioned before, in order to perform this research project in successful way, two categories of data and different research methods should be investigated. This research project will be primarily based on secondary research because the primary research is not needed as all the information is already available through secondary research sources, such as books, journals and newspapers. What is more, in order to achieve the aim that has to be investigated, the best method of research would be secondary research.

To enhance the existing but very little evidence of the posed topic, secondary research was gathered. Ghosh and Chopra (2003, p.33) define the term secondary research as:

“…data which are already in existence and collected by others, not by the investigator and are available in published and unpublished forms”

Secondary research was chosen as the quickest and the easiest way to access and is the most cost effective approach to this research project as well. Veal (2006) confirms this by stating that secondary data often provides researchers with rapid answers to some questions at less cost than it would to undergo primary research. Furthermore, if there is enough secondary research to base the study on then it would be a waste of resources to collect new information for the same purposes (Veal, 2006).What is more, secondary research seemed more relevant than primary research. This was because there was wide variety of literature on the subject of dark tourism and ethical issues, sourced from University College Birmingham library, with many books containing relevant information, which will be discussed later.

Primary Data

The Oxford English Dictionary (2002) defines primary research “…which is collected for a specific and immediate research need…” There are many different ways in which to carry out primary research. In order of this research topic, the author found that many of the theories couldn’t be backed up with primary data and with a suitable sample.

For the purpose of this research project, primary research could be used to gather relevant data and access a large population of students at University College Birmingham and other universities situated in Birmingham.

One of the core methods of carrying out primary research is through questionnaires. Mainly, there are two forms of questionnaires: open ended and closed ended. Open ended questionnaires are likely to have unlimited answers to a set of alternatives and likely to receive long answers. However, the difficulty is that they are difficult to analyse and as they seem to hand the baton of control over to the other person. Closed ended questions impose a direct risk to the validity of findings and can be answered with either a single word or a short phrase.

Another form of primary research, which was considered were interviews. The Oxford English Dictionary (2002) defines interview as “…formal discussion between two parties in which information is exchanged.” It is possible to say, that it is all about asking questions and receiving the answers.

Therefore in this research project, due to difficulties in collecting the required data and access a large population for testing along the facilities required to carry out, a primary research would not be useful in gathering relevant data and the researcher will benefit further from analysing secondary data from literature.

Obtaining Research

The majority of secondary research for this dissertation was gathered from books, academically reviewed journals, on-line factual reports, newspapers and the internet. All this sources can justify the point of view of an author and provide relevant information about the research project.

The most easily accessible secondary research method that the author of dissertation found was the usage text books. Text books were primarily used to gain background knowledge and obtain a wider understanding of specific topics. The advantage of using books is because it gives a clear understanding and academic information. As it was already mentioned before, this method was the easiest, because the researcher could get them not just from the University College Birmingham library, but also to the online library supplied by the University and other on-line organisations such as Amazon, EBay and Google. Key words had to be entered to find appropriate books from the on-line organisations and the library catalogue, the following key words were entered, “dark tourism”, “dark tourism ethics”, “dark tourism and morality”. There were some books which contained many different theories from the past to the present day. The researched decided that the most relevant author’s for this research project were John Lennon and Malcolm Foley (2000) and Richard Sharpley and Phillip R.Stone (2009,a). Books for the methodology were found by entering the key words; “research methods” and “methodology”.

The journals are preferred because they are accurate and provide up to date data, they are also more relevant to the topic as the dissertation is concentrated on the topic of consumers’ and providers’ point of views of dark tourism. The journals were accessed through academic search engines like Athens for example and journal databases such as ScienceDirect, Emerald Management Xtra. But unfortunately, these databases were not useful as they did not give any information on particular question, except ScienceDirect. Journals relating to the research topic were accessed with comfort as the researcher can type in key words and the database will present pages of journals that are associated with the key words. The key words the researcher typed in to each journal database were “Dark tourism”, “ethical issues of dark tourism”, “ethics and morality”, “Dark tourism forum”. To get more information, the researcher travelled to universities to view their journals however access to relevant information, were not as successful as it was to find them via the internet.

On-line factual reports were used to obtain raw facts and figures; some of these reports include Mintel. Similarly to accessing the journals, key words were entered in order to retrieve the data, the key words that were entered were “Dark tourism ethics”, “Dark tourism”. Moreover, on-line articles were read in order to gain a wider perspective of the posed subject area.

The usage of newspaper and internet will also be included in order to provide a variety of information and because they are easy of access. Newspapers are useful because they are up to date, however the information can be too subjective, and as for this particular topic of dark tourism, the researcher found newspapers not really useful, because of the lack of information on dark tourism. Internet was useful source of information; however the reader need to check if the source is reliable and information is updated. Websites are easy to access and easy to research information on and are also updated regularly. This variety of sources gives a better understanding of the subject.

Construction of Design

Out of all the research that has been taken, text books and academic journals were the most reliable and valid to use to back up any point. This is due to the fact that dark tourism is comparatively new phenomenon in tourism industry, books and academic journals are often published frequently throughout the year so the information that is provided is up to date. Furthermore, academic journals and text books are intensely reviewed by academic professionals before publication to ensure its validity.

The author of dissertation aimed to gather resources that were only published after the year 1999 as this is relatively recent; however certain books have been used from a much earlier date due to their relevance to the research question. However, journals or books dated in the 80s or 90s will not consider as outdated.

The selection of secondary data gathered has been published in a variety of places; it was thought that as the topic in question is ethical issue of dark tourism, then perhaps research published in a variety of countries would be useful to get a wide range of views from across the globe.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Research Methods

Although secondary research was the ideal research method to use for this research project, it does hold some disadvantages. There is always the risk that the author could include their own opinions, so they can strongly sway towards one point and books can be not updated on a regular basis. Also, with academic journals, there are many accurate topics and findings, however a fee is charged for many of them, some of which are only available to a certain group of people making them hard or even impossible to access, this could put a strain on the researcher’s findings. As for Mintel, some of reports were helpful, but not published yet for audience. Furthermore, Ghosh and Chopra (2003) mention that although it is more cost effective and less time consuming, the secondary research may not be as accurate as the researcher had hoped.

Besides this, secondary research still remained ideal for the dissertation as the quality of data obtained can be better than the quality of primary research, as information gained through secondary sources could have been obtained using better and more advanced resources. Moreover, because of the lack of time and financial situation, secondary research was primarily used as being cost effective and less time consuming, it is also easy to access as it does not require any additional resources.

Primary research was considered due to the fact that it is useful to gather relevant data and access a large population of students tailored to the researchers needs. However, it was rejected due to the lack of experience, funds and resources which could give a limit to the quality of the data gathered and as a result, being unsuccessful (Kumar, 2005). The researcher does not have any experience in carrying out primary research so in order to make the research project successful, it would be inappropriate for primary research to be undergone for this dissertation, and it would make more sense for the researcher to analyse findings from previous and more experienced researchers and academic professionals.

Plan for Data Analysis

As there is a variety of secondary information gathered, it is necessary for the researcher to analyse them carefully. This variety of sources gives a better understanding of the subject.

Once it has all been collected, it will be thoroughly analysed to determine its validity and reliability, and those that are not pertinent will be rejected from being used for the dissertation. It is important that validity is measured carefully as Kirk and Miller (1986, p.71) mentions that “perfect validity entails perfect reliability”.

In order to evaluate the collected research, the researcher will read over it and make their own judgments based on a number of factors surrounding it for example, the sources in which the information was collected from and the method in which the sources were collected. When applying the frame work, the researcher will use it to assess different aspects of the dark tourism ethics to conclude by providing final results to the aim.


This methodology has evaluated and justified the choice of research design for this dissertation. As secondary research is being used, the researcher has analysed this type of research by describing the advantages and disadvantages of it. After the collected research has been evaluated, the findings will be analysed and discussed in the following section.

Analysis and Evaluation

This section is essential as the researcher will be analysing and evaluating the findings of the research project. The main aspects of the results which were found in the data discussed in the literature review will be approached carefully in order to weigh up the arguments effectively.

Dark tourism and ethical issues

Among the more established dilemmas of dark tourism is ethics and morality. Dark tourism has often raised ethical debates and discussions about the ways in which leisure time and pleasure are mixed with tragedy (Kempa and Strange, 2003), as many people think some sites of dark tourism are too sensitive to present it for the world to see. In addition, management of dark tourism attraction is a sensitive issue which is difficult to undertake, and Tunbridge and Ashworth (1996) observed the misuse and abuse of sacred values for market benefit and entertainment purposes are more likely to occur at atrocity site than at other heritage sites. Moreover, as Stone (2009,a) states, the rights of those whose death is commoditised or commercialised through dark tourism represent an important ethical and moral dimension, which deserves depth consideration. However, although this may be the case, it actually varies depending on the ‘sh

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