Disaster tourism is undertaken purely out of curiosity. There are people who after hearing of a huge landslide or a tsunami immediately start looking for the cheapest ticket into the disaster zone. Less extreme are the travelers keen to see the effects of natural disasters in places they visit.
Why should I be aware of this?
Only recently has disaster tourism been recognized as a subset of the tourism industry and begun to be academically studied. As studies are under way, further research is required as there are several gaps in the literature and information currently available.
One of the largest areas yet to be explored within the context of disaster tourism is the why factor. What causes the demand for it? Why would so many people visit so many sites associated with such unpleasant incidents year after year? Though there have been some attempts to explain this, however they do not entirely answer the question.
There are also criticisms as this form of tourism can lead to a loss of the authenticity of a site or experience and call into question the ethics of operating such a service to create personal gain out of the death and misery of others.
Many researchers believe that it is society's fascination with death, real or fictional, media inspired or otherwise, that is seemingly driving the dark tourism phenomenon.
All about disaster tourism
Though it has become a recent subject of study, disaster tourism has been around for centuries in various forms. The Roman gladiatorial games were viewed by many in ancient times, Waterloo was witnessed by many tourists who came to view the battle while it was in progress and it has even been alleged that England's first guided tour was a trip to watch the hanging of a pair of murderers.
One of the reasons disaster tourism is becoming popular because of people’s desire to experience things first-hand, without any intermediaries. There’s also a tendency for people to gravitate towards the unusual and the dangerous. Just as traffic slows down when there’s an accident and people want to see, possibly to feel relieved that such a thing didn’t happen to them.
It may also be a need to be near danger. And some prefer 'unspoilt' places - unspoilt by other tourists, that is.
What can I do?
- Postpone your visit at least till after the aid and humanitarian workers have gone.
- Give the affected people a chance to mourn and to come to terms with how their lives have changed.
- Wait until the disaster isn't front-page news anymore. There's a fine line between disaster, current events and history. Figuring out how to navigate this line is tricky. Pompeii today it is seen as a historical destination, not disaster tourism.
- And pay attention to what local people say
- In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina disaster tourism took hold in the Greater New Orleans Area with guided bus tours to neighborhoods that were severely damaged by storm-related flooding.
- Before the shattered glass had been cleared from the road, before the last of the firemen had gone home, before even half a day had passed since the death of the last terrorist, the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel in Mumbai, India, had become a tourist spot. Gawkers positioned themselves outside the hotel to see the parts of the façade that had featured in the ceaseless television coverage, taking photos of themselves in front of particularly damaged section.