The Commodification of Dark Tourism: Conceptualising the Visitor Experience

Grebenar, Alex (2018) The Commodification of Dark Tourism: Conceptualising the Visitor Experience. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The study of ‘dark tourism’ has gained increasing traction over the past two decades or so. Visits to sites of, or associated with death, disaster, atrocity, or suffering are a pervasive feature within the contemporary tourism landscape. This thesis, therefore, critically examines dark tourism within the modern tourism industry in which ‘dark’ experiences are packaged-up and sold to consumers – a process known as ‘commodification’. As a result, the study appraises the effects commodification has on the visitor experience at sites of dark tourism.
Drawing upon a multidisciplinary approach, this thesis examines key relationships between dark tourism supplier and consumer in order to evaluate the visitor experience. This includes the notion of mortality and, in so doing, the research considers how the process of commodification affects encounters with the fragile state and inevitable demise of the human being. Moreover, this relates to the so-called ‘sequestration of death’ whereby death, in modern life, is removed from daily life in order to protect the Self from undue upsetting thoughts.
This thesis utilises a phenomenological research philosophy in order to understand the nature of visitor experiences. The study also adopts a supply-demand approach, and so through the instruments of semi-structured interviews and participant questionnaires, appraises the relationship between the provision and consumption of dark tourism experiences. The empirical research investigates two case studies within UK dark tourism: Lancaster Castle and the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool.
Ultimately, this thesis argues that the commodification process denotes specific semiotics of a touristic and behavioural nature. In turn, this thesis offers an original blueprint model in which to locate commodification processes, which this study terms the ‘Semiotic Framework of Dark Tourism Experience’. It is concluded that, using supply-side entities such as tour guides, shops, interpretative materials and other such items, suppliers of dark tourism sculpt the experience and direct visitor behaviour, but crucially do not fundamentally change the nature of experience by providing those phenomena. Rather, commodification within dark tourism provides a specific context in which to encounter death, mortality and atrocity within authentic and ontologically secure boundaries.

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