Grief tourism

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Flowers at Diana's funeral
Oh no, they're talking about
Icon politics.svg
As usual
Country sections
United States politics British politics Canadian politics Chinese politics French politics Indian politics Iranian politics Israeli politics Japanese politics South Korean politics

Grief tourism is a term applied to the practice of people who "pay respect" to victims, most often of murder, that they don't know and wouldn't have cared about if the case didn't make the evening news. Such cases are extremely common when child murders occur and even more common when the child is very young, or female, or photogenic. Another common case is when celebrities die, as was seen with Michael Jackson and Jade Goody. People will travel to lay flowers at the murder site and lend support to the family of the victim—although in the recent age of social networking, joining a Facebook group is an okay alternative. However sincere the grief tourists believe they are, there is no denying that they're only really doing it for self-serving reasons, and the number of people traveling to sites almost certainly will hamper police investigations.


The term appears to have developed from an earlier trend of "dark tourism", which is the practice of visiting grave sites or other areas of mass death such as concentration camps.[1] Grief tourism in its current guise seems to have stemmed from the death of Princess Diana in 1997, when thousands of people who felt emotionally connected to her turned out to lay flowers and in some cases throw them onto the road, aiming to get them to land on the hearse. This resulted in the car having to stop on several occasions to clear the windscreen of colourful debris.

Why people want to express grief over people they don't know personally is unclear. It may well be that that some individuals are very emotional and will genuinely react if the event does resonate with them in some way.[note 1] However, in this case, why would people not be flocking to poorer developing countries in SubSaharan Africa to weep for the millions dying of famine or AIDS every time a news report is shown? One possible explanation could be desensitization, that images of the poor and starving, with their bodies swarming with flies are common, while the images of middle-class children being killed are not. Or there's a simple bias against these countries, a known phenomenom in reporting where a missing young white woman makes the news sooner than a natural disasters killing thousands. Another possibility is that, like with prayer, grief tourists feel the need to do something, or at least feel something, especially after viewing others on the news who are in tears because a celebrity that they had never met had just died in fairly mundane circumstances. Thus, grief tourism allows individuals to satisfy the need to do or feel something in a convenient manner.


  • Portugal's tourism industry was given a big shot in the arm when Madeleine McCann went missing.
  • The town of Soham in the UK was almost buried in flowers following the murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman (Whether the same would have happened if they hadn't been media-friendly photogenic young girls is doubtful).[2]
  • The former site of the World Trade Center in New York (Ground Zero) is pretty much ground zero the world's number one focus of this activity — tourists who visit New York and don't go to Ground Zero are almost non-existent.
  • The Oklahoma City bombing memorial, which is a national monument under the purview of the U.S. National Park Service.
  • The former site of the Branch Davidian ranch near Waco, Texas was a thriving grief tourist destination for much of the 1990s.
  • Former Nazi concentration camps in Germany and Poland, most notably Auschwitz — considered the origin of "dark tourism".
  • Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, France, which houses Oscar Wilde's and Jim Morrison's tombs, amongst others.
  • "Strawberry Fields", the tribute to John Lennon in Central Park.
  • Politicians sometimes commemorate anniversaries by visiting graveyards in foreign countries.
  • Just about anyone who travels to North Korea.

External links[edit]

  • Newswipe, episode 2 - discusses media influence that contributes to and encourages outpourings of grief on television.


  1. Most sci-fi fans should have shed at least one tear when Arthur C. Clarke died...