Motivations to engage in dark tourism : the case of selected sites in South Africa.
Nhlabathi, Sibonakaliso S.
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The aim of this study was to understand motivations to visit dark tourism sites, particularly, in South Africa and generally internationally. Dark tourism or tourism to places associated with death, pain and suffering is relatively new and under researched. Although dark tourism literature is growing, there was still some uncertainty in academic circles about its theorisation and conceptualisation. Some have argued that dark tourism was just branding in a competitive academic landscape. Touring places associated with dark events started back in the Middle Ages, however, since the last quarter of the 20th century there had been a notable increase in the organisation of tourism to dark attractions. The negative sightseeing concept appeared to be the first concept to be used in the 1970s to characterise this form of tourism. However, meaningful scholarly endeavour to understand this phenomenon emerged in the 1990s. The concepts that emerged during this time to dominate theorisation of dark tourism are thanatopsis (contemplation of death), and intimations of postmodernity from which the dark tourism concept emerged. The dark tourism concept has become popular in literature. Some of the other terms which have been used to describe tours to places associated with dark events and to describe sites of that nature are: black spots tourism, assassination sites tourism, dissonant tourism, morbid tourism, disaster tourism, conflict tourism, poverty tourism, slum tourism, landscapes of violent tragedy, and, geographies of trauma. This study was conducted at three sites in South Africa: the Robben Island Museum, the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum, and the Apartheid Museum. This study was concerned with a deeper understanding of tourists’ motives to engage in dark tourism in general, and to tour the research sites in particular. Further this study explored how tourists and curators (of the museums, the research sites) interpreted them. The research adopted a qualitative research approach which stressed social interaction, social construction, and the creation of meaning. Qualitative research approach is a major tool in the pursuit for a deeper and broader understanding of the meanings of events, activities, situations and actions of research participants. This study revealed that visitors toured dark tourism sites intentionally in order to: pay homage to the victims of difficult pasts; learn, especially history; remember victims of difficult pasts; pay homage to Nelson Mandela, and connect with South Africa’s political struggles. Visitors also toured the dark tourism sites because they were in bigger trips which also involved visiting nature reserves. Tourists labelled visits to nature reserves as safaris; finally, visits were motivated by curiosity and desire to know. This study found that the following intermediaries played important roles in influencing visits to dark tourism sites: tour operators; educational institutions in the USA; television, internet, and social media; TripAdvisor; Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom; and friends. This study also found that tourists who toured as a couple, it is usually women spouses who normally initiate the trips. Curators presented the research sites as places where people learned about: past injustices, prejudice, and suffering. Curators further hoped that visits to the research sites would touch visitors intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Visitors interpreted dark tourism sites as: educational and cultural places; sometimes gloomy and emotional, but still educational sites; and, also as special places, sites of freedom, sites of empowerment, and, as shrines. Tourists were generally positive about sites, however, some hoped for platforms that facilitated interactivity as opposed to passive reception of information. This study also found that some tourists had some issues relating to the organisation of the tours to the Robben Island Museum. This study divided recommendations concerning policy and management of the research sites into: recommendations directed to the Government and recommendations directed to the three sites of this study. With respect to the Government this study recommended that wild-life be protected by all means because it is the main draw card for international tourists. This study also recommended that the South African and the Zimbabwean governments cooperate in matters of tourism. This should be so because most tourists combined visits to South Africa with visits to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe which visitors described as safaris. With regards to the three study sites, this study made recommendations that if the research sites wished to attract more tourists, they might consider doing the following: work with tour operators; make use of social media (face book); and integrate the concept of active visitor engagement mostly for purposes of attracting younger visitors. This study also recommended that the Robben Island Museum should revisit their idea of the Museum tourism experience because a few visitors voiced some concerns regarding the organisation of the tours.