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Grief Tourism

When Travelers Seek Tragedy

— July 13, 2007 — World
When we imagine "tourism," we imagine beaches, comfortable hotels, sometimes a sport, and at other times natural discovery. But now, darker forms of tourism are gaining popularity in an increasingly news-strung world. It's called Dark Tourism - and one of its genres is Grief Tourism.

According to the Macmillam definition, a Grief Tourist is “a person who travels specifically to visit the scene of a tragedy or disaster”.

In America, grief tourism has been associated with traveling to Ground Zero in New York City, where the World Trade Center was destroyed. Most Americans view a visit to Ground Zero as a patriotic act and grief tourism doesn't have the same negative connotation in the US as it does in the UK.

While grief tourism is a relatively new word (indeed the usage of grief tourism is rather hard to define because of this newness), the concept it represents is not. For example Holocaust Tourism is nothing new as it includes UNESCO world heritage sites such as Auschwitz and Anne Frank's House.

The Importance of Being Aggrieved

Grief Tourism may be perceived as extreme by some tourists. It is, however, of historic importance to the places which host the tourism - and a cathartic tool. The concepts of grief tourism is actually an age-old human ritual of visiting the past of humanity to understand and to learn about humanity. As in the case of Holocaust Tourism, it is often a source of great relief, connection, and feeling. To those intimately connected with the story of the situation, grief tourism is a way of keeping a bond alive, of reviving their spirit - though the catharsis may not work well for each individual. It remains a matter of taste.

On another level, grief tourism offers an opportunity to destinations that otherwise do not fit the regular image of tourism that we have in our heads. It allows these hosts to re-evaluate the way they can contribute to the knowledge of a world-wise traveler. It doesn't fit our popular understanding, true, but there is much to learn in the disasters and tragedies that have and are taking place the world over.

Photo Credit: Killing Fields in Cambodia, by Galen R Frysinger