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Tourist Motivation to Visit War Heritage Sites

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    Heritage tourism is a very old form of travel and nowadays a growing tourism market (Aas, Ladkin, Fletcher, 2005; Timothy, Boyd, 2006). These days the market of heritage tourism is very diverse. One special form of heritage tourism is “dark tourism”, which is often used synonymous with “thanatourism”, referring to the Greek “thanatos” what means the personification of death (Corsane, 2005). All kinds of human suffering, like disasters, death and also cruelty, often basing on ethnic or political conflicts, can be shown by cultural legacy (Timothy, Boyd, 2006). That is why it is called a mixture of history, heritage, tourism and tragedy (Niemela, 2010 cited in Farmaki, 2013).

    Figure 1: Dark tourism sceneries like 9/11 in New York and the concentration-Camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau



    War is also one aspect of human suffering and therewith dark tourism. It caused many unique sceneries and stories about divisions, disagreement, military control and ethnic or political conflicts (Hartmann, 2014; Ioannides, Apostolopoulos, 1999; Timothy, Boyd, 2003). Thus, war heritage is always in a close connection to the area (Hartmann, 2014) and the nation and tells its very unique story about a conflict. Even if people do not identify themselves with the cruel happenings, it often happens that outstanding people release a connection between history, legacy and nation/society. But still, it is important to tell “dark stories” like war sceneries, because that is the best way to learn from humans faults and to dispute with a nation’s history. Nowadays, two of the most famous war heritage destinations are the Holocaust site of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was visited by approximately 1.2 million tourists in 2007 and the happening of 9/11 in New York, called Ground Zero, that was with 3.5 million visitors one of the city’s main attractions in 2007 (Kang et al., 2012 cited in Farmaki, 2013).

    Thus, it can be seen that dark tourism heritage sites attract many tourists all over the world and the actual number of war heritage visitors is growing (Timothy, Boyd, 2006; Hartmann, 2014). Even in very early times, people traveled to different destinations motivated by thanatourism, e.g. the battlefield of Waterloo (Farmaki, 2013). In 1998 Smith stated that war sites are probably the largest single category of tourist attractions visited in the world (cited in Farmaki, 2013).

    However, many tourists visit war places just randomly since they happen to be just one of many attractions in a destination (e.g. Ground Zero in New York) or because the tourist is generally interested in culture (Farmaki, 2013). But some tourists do have the main travel motive of dark tourism or war heritage sites (e.g. Concentration-Camps). Researchers analyzed different motives for tourists to travel to these dramatic places such as malicious pleasure, contemplation about death, curiosity, entertainment, empathic identification, nationalistic motivation, remembrance, identity search, education or the feeling of social responsibility (Farmaki, 2013). Moreover the tourists' interpretations of the site depend in a large scale on their personal interest and the familiarity with the conflict/place (Farmaki, 2013). Nevertheless, researchers agree on the fact, that the analysis and evaluation of the demand site of dark tourism and war heritage is so far very poor examined and needs much more in depth research in the future (Farmaki, 2013).



    Aas, C., Ladkin, A., Fletcher, J. (2005) Stakeholder Collaboration and Heritage Management. Annals of Tourism Research, 32 (1), pp. 28-48.

    Corsane, G. (2005) Heritage, Museums and Galleries: An Introductory Reader. Routledge. p. 266.

    Farmaki, A. (2013) Dark tourism revisited: a supply/demand conceptualization. International Journal of Culture, Tourism and Hospitality Research, 7(3), pp.281-292.

    Hartmann, R. (2014) Dark tourism, thanatourism, and dissonance in heritage tourism management: new directions in contemporary tourism research. Journal of Heritage Tourism, 9 (2), pp.166-182.

    Ioannides, D., Apostolopoulos, Y. (1999) Political Instability, War and Tourism in Cyprus: Effects, Menegement, and Prospects for Recovery. Journal of Travel Research, 38(51), pp.51-56.

    Timothy, D. J., Boyd, S.W. (2003) Heritage Tourism. Edinburgh Gate: Pearson Education Limited.

    Timothy, D. J., Boyd, S.W. (2006) Heritage Tourism in the 21st Century: Valued Traditions and New Perspectives. Journal of Heritage Tourism, 1(1), pp.1-16.


    Figure (n.y.) Titel page. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 14/11/22].


    Written by Eva Erdmenger

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    Hey Eva! I appreciate that you come up with the interesting topic discussing the motives to visit war heritage sights. Your discussion is clear and very well referenced you have mentioned some of the main motives like alicious pleasure, curiosity, entertainment, empathic identification .. Etc. but is there any research made putting a percentage to the main motives of people to visit dark sights or war heritages?
    Best regards,
    Posted 18:10, 28 Nov 2014
    Thank you for your comment and your reflection, Yonas.
    Concerning your question about percentage of motives: In the literature I read there were no percentages mentioned. I agree that this would be very interesting and of course my research was limited. Probably there is a study out there that refers to a case study or evaluation including percentages.

    On the other hand, since war heritage is a very sensitive topic and also the decision what is war heritage and what not is in the eye of the beholder, I imagine that it is very difficult to evaluate these kind of tourists and interview them about their motives. Some people might have personal motives they don't want to share, some others might be ashamed for their motives. Moreover, war heritage sites are spread all over the world.
    To sum it up, even if I think it would be interesting to see numbers and figurs, I am nut sure how comprehensive and trustworthy they would be.

    If you want to read more about the motives and see maybe another perspective you should read Sanders article "Dark tourism; motivation an social issues" which bases on other sources, what I think is also very interesting.
    Posted 16:30, 29 Nov 2014
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