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Dark tourism and its power to challenge us

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Published: 17 September 2019

By Dr Ian Joseph Morton, Senior Lecturer in Tourism and Events

Auschwitz

Over the past eight years, our Tourism Management and International Tourism and Hospitality Management students have studied dark tourism and events for their second-year undergraduate fieldwork module.

For the first six years, we visited Prague in Czechia (also known as the Czech Republic) and more recently we have visited Kraków in Poland. Broadly, we cover how dark history, including aspects of the Second World War and the Holocaust, as well as the Cold War, are interpreted by modern-visitor attractions and events.

On the suite of degree programmes that we offer in our department, much of our time in the classroom is spent on the strategy and operation of the tourism, hospitality and events industries. For example, the formation of tourism development plans for areas hoping to achieve growth in visitor numbers or the latest techniques used by hospitality organisations to achieve and maintain the highest possible levels of customer service and experience.

The field trip gives us the unique opportunity to witness the role of our industry in truly challenging people’s thinking about some of global society’s biggest questions. Most students and staff attending the field trip have likely studied the Second World War, the Holocaust and the Cold War before and much of what we are probably most acquainted with concerns the principal political, economic and military concepts which inform historical understanding of those periods.

Something we have observed over the course of the field trips has been the profound feelings engendered in students and staff when they are faced with what I refer to as ‘the stories of the powerless’ - intimate insights gained at the places and events we visit into the experiences of victims of totalitarian political regimes.

Overall, our experience on field trips has given us renewed insight into how tourism can truly change the world, in the sense that it can alter people’s perceptions of it."

Dr Ian Joseph Morton
Senior Lecturer in Tourism and Events

Visitors are exposed to accounts of lives totally devoid of freedom, people’s movements, destinies and deaths totally outside of their own control. After discussion with students on the trips, it seems central to the feelings generated is a surprisingly profound sense of empathy for other human beings, those caught up in historical events that we sometimes feel confident we have already ‘covered’ in school or in popular media.

For example, at the Oskar Schindler Factory Museum in Kraków, close to the site of the city’s former Jewish ghetto, visitors are confronted by the sense of superiority and entitlement inherent in Nazi ideology and the way in which it left Jewish and Slavic residents in occupied Kraków un-entitled to the protection of the rights of the human, as had hitherto been established in global history and discourse.

It was expressed a number of times in the Schindler museum that it was if Nazi-occupied territory was a land completely apart from civilising social norms that had been established globally over millennia. Staff and students on the trip remarked that it had been challenging, upsetting but insightful to try to conceive of a life without protection for basic human rights, based on personal accounts contained within the museum.

Oskar Schindler Factory

Overall, our experience on field trips has given us renewed insight into how tourism can truly change the world, in the sense that it can alter people’s perceptions of it. It is a reminder of why we work so hard to develop excellence in the strategies and techniques that are developed to plan, govern and improve the global tourism industry of today and tomorrow.

Finally, many of us attending the trips feel afterwards a greater motivation to avoid feelings of entitlement - of ever feeling somehow more entitled to protection, enjoyment or status than any other fellow human being.

Dr Ian Joseph Morton has been a Lecturer in Tourism and Events at the University of Sunderland for the last five years. The majority of his work, in terms of teaching, research and external engagement concerns cities and tourism’s place within them. Read more about Dr Morton's interests here.
 
Go on life-changing visits to the world’s most iconic cities, meet and learn from inspiring industry guest speakers and work alongside an approachable, vastly-experienced teaching team by studying a Tourism, Hospitality and Events degree at the University of Sunderland.