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Sunday, 31 October 2021

Ghosts’ contributions to GDP is growing

Have an Emo friend you want to get out of the house? Let them jump on the dark tourism bandwagon, which promises ghosts, historical deaths, and most importantly, a scare. For the many fans of the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption, getting to visit the imposing Germanic-Romanesque prison where the movie was filmed sounds like a dream come true. However, for many of the 180k annual visitors, the biggest appeal wasn’t standing in the same spots as Morgan Freeman but the spooky reputation the site held. The Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society — which saved the prison from being demolished — started offering ghost tours, ghost hunts and “private paranormal investigations,” on the site, using income from the endeavors to maintain the property. The idea was in no way revolutionary, with other countries and organizations seeing the money making potential of getting people spooked, leading to the coining of terms such as haunted tourism, ghost tourism, or the more widely used, dark tourism.

The origins of dark tourism: The aptly named form of tourism involves visiting places historically associated with tragedy, death, grief, or crime. The term dark tourism was first used in 1996 by two researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University, John Lennon and Malcolm Foley, who later wrote a book together on the subject. New labels aside, these experiences have been attractive to people for centuries; from watching gladiator and bull fights to visiting cemeteries, human beings have long had a fascination with death.

There are several types of dark tourism: Disaster tourism shows off sites such as Hiroshima or Chernobyl, war tourism entails tours of places where large battles occured, banditry tourism takes people to places where famous criminals ran their operations, haunted or supernatural tourism featuring ghosts, witches, or other spirits, and necrotourism which involves morgues, graves, or other places where people were buried.

The psychology behind it: It’s simple really. People can enjoy a good scare as long as they know it’s in a controlled environment. And in our current consumerist-driven societies, commodifying experiences related to death and danger has never been easier, Lennon and Foley wrote in their book on the subject. Whether through VR-experiences, macabre-themed escape rooms, or visits to dark historical sites, there are a massive number of purchasable experiences now catering to our dark desires.

Some of the most popular dark tourism attractions around the world are found in Europe, given it’s long history of war and plagues, and its abundance of old castles. The continent counts Auschwitz concentration camps, bubonic plague catacombs, and mass graves among its macabre attractions. But it still boasts several less known spots that ghost hunters claim are a hotbed of paranormal activity including Poveglia in Italy, which was once a quarantine zone for people suffering from the plague and was also used as an insane asylum in the early 20th century. It is now known as the world’s “most” haunted island. Germany’s Burg Wolfsegg and France’s Château de Brissac are castles haunted by their previous female owners — both of whom were murdered by their respective husbands.

North America also has some picks: In the US, ocean liner The Queen Mary saw more than 50 deaths during its time at sea and is now marketed as a haunted ship that visitors to California can experience. If you’re ever in Canada, the gorgeous Fairmont Banff Springs is home to the "Ghost Bride" who awaits people in the hotel ballroom.

Too [REDACTED] soon? The next dark tourism trend might be covid-inspired. The Chinese city of Wuhan has already been seeing an increase in travelers in the wake of the pandemic, ranking first among domestic destinations Chinese travelers would like to visit, according to the Tourism Research Centre in China, reported Skift. With many people still suffering from the pandemic, it’s unlikely covid dark tourism will arise soon, but given humanity’s track record, it’s kind of inevitable.

Egypt has its fair share of dark locations: Named after the mn’aire Belgian industrialist who was its original owner, the Baron Empain Palace was neglected for years and rumored to be home to ghosts who would flash lights in the middle of the night, writes ABC. It has now been renovated, and it is unclear whether the alleged ghosts are still around. Meanwhile, the home of Egypt’s most infamous criminal duo Raya and Sakina is open to the public to explore (you can take a little video tour here).

Umm El Donia has often missed out on ways to monetize ghost stories, such as an apartment building in Alexandria that was dubbed “3omaret el 3afaret,” but was demolished in recent years. As a nod to the building’s history, the new apartment complex built in its place hosted an exhibit featuring newspaper articles and relics from the original haunted building.

Pyramids, tombs, mummies, don’t count: Even though they all center around the concept of grand deaths that were preserved through time, their visitors don’t think of them as monuments of death, but as impressive architectural and artistic feats in the ancient world.

If you don’t want to book a big vacation, you can head over to Airbnb and search for the nearest haunted house: At least, that’s the case abroad, where many homeowners in the US, Russia, and the UK are adding descriptions of hauntings to attract guests to their properties. Bustle has the rundown on a few including cottages, mansions, and bed and breakfasts. Airbnb itself jumped on the trend and now has a worldwide directory of Spooky Stays you can look through. Not convinced? Neither were we, but a reporter who booked a haunted property for this piece in the Washington Post managed to scare us a bit.

Want to know more?

  • Netflix has an entire series called Dark Tourism which follows journalist David Farrier as he visits these unusual tourism spots around the world.
  • Haunted Heritage by Michele Hanks is a book that explores the “the cultural politics of ghost tourism, populism, and the past.”
  • Thirty of the world’s most famous dark tourism attractions are featured in this slideshow from Travel + Leisure.
  • Trip Advisor has a list of the world’s spookiest hotels.

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