Grief Tourism

Travel to areas affected by natural disasters, places where people were murdered, etc.

Grief Tourism definition

Grief tourism – the act of traveling to the scene of a tragedy or disaster.

Grief tourist – One who travels with the intent of visiting the scene of a tragedy or disaster.

Similar phrases – disaster tourism, dark tourism, recreational grief, conspicuous compassion, mourning sickness. 

Our definition of grief tourism is rather broad. This broad definition is similar in range to Macmillan’s definition of grief tourist: “a person who travels specifically to visit the scene of a tragedy or disaster”. Here, the reason for travel must be considered. A tourist who travels to New York City to visit Ground Zero is a grief tourist, but a tourist who travels to go see some Broadway shows and climb the Empire State Building who also happens to visit Ground Zero is a regular tourist.

There has been a case made for differentiating between dark tourism, disaster tourism, and grief tourism by

Dark tourism would then refer to “travel to areas associated with death and disaster” such as former concentration camps, battlefields, and Ground Zero in New York.

Disaster tourism would refer to traveling to places affected by natural disasters such as hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes.

Grief tourism would refer to Soham in Cambridgeshire and not much else. 

 This is what had to say about disaster, dark and grief tourism. Note the very broad definition of dark tourism:

At the bleaker end of the scale, there’s dark tourism, referring to travel to areas associated with death and disaster: this includes visits to former concentration camps, battlefields, and even to contemporary sites of mass destruction such as Ground Zero in New York. Known to the Germans as Gruseltourismus (‘shudder tourism’), the term dark tourism can be traced back to 1996, according to Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words website.

Of course, not all tourists are part of organized trips: many just gravitate to places that have appeared in the news for all the wrong reasons: the term disaster tourism has been used to describe the phenomenon of travellers visiting areas devastated by natural catastrophes such as the South-East Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, while grief tourism gained prominence in 2002 when significant numbers of people visited the village of Soham in Cambridgeshire after the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

In my opinion, the definitions above are too narrow to describe how grief tourism is used. On this site, grief tourism can refer to any and all of the examples above.

Philip Stone from argues that dark tourists experience sensations or emotions that regular tourists do not. This definition of dark tourism is much more narrow than the one used by above because it refers only to tourists experiencing a certain “emotional pleasure”:

For most people, a visit to a cemetery as part of a holiday is not a dark tourism episode. It is, rather, a way to get another, more oblique view of the social or cultural history of the host city or region, and to view the works of local architects and sculptors. For the dark tourist, however, the imagined presence of the dead – or indeed Death itself – amid the rich symbolism of grave markers and atmospheric surroundings, provides a sensational or emotional pleasure, rooted in Romantic or Gothic art and literature.

We can see the difference between dark tourists and regular tourists, if we can apply the above example of cemetery tourism to a specific attraction such as the USS Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. According to this distinction, I would expect a regular tourist that visits the USS Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor to be interested in WWII history while the dark tourist would be seeking some sort of emotional thrill or “pleasure”.

It’s not immediately clear how this narrow definition for dark tourism relates to grief tourism. The most common example of grief tourism, tourism to Soham in Cambridgeshire following the murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, seems to include more regular tourists than dark tourists. Many of the tourists were going for the spectacle rather than to experience “emotional pleasure”.

Perhaps we can say that grief tourism is more about the scene, spectacle, or history while dark tourism is more about the emotions a tourist feels. However, I also have a suspicion that I’m over-analyzing a word so new to the lexicon that it’s not used frequently enough for its normal usage to explained effectively. Normal usage for words like grief tourism and dark tourism has yet to be determined.

As a linguist I know that predictions can’t be made with certainty but I wouldn’t be surprised to see both grief tourism and dark tourism used in much the same way over the next few years (with definitions tending toward the general rather than the specific) while disaster tourism will retain its specific definition.

Several months after putting this explanation together, I came across this article which seems to show usage of “dark tourism” moving away from Philip Stone’s definition revolving around emotion and moving toward a general definition that includes destinations like  Ground Zero, Cambodia’s Killing Fields, and Auschwitz-Birkenau plus “a Sunday stroll around Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris to see the graves of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison; attending a memorial service at Gallipoli in Turkey; or visiting Mt St Helens National Volcanic Monument in the US.”