What Are The Motivations Of Dark Tourists Tourism Essay


On the 27th of April 2008, Josef Fritzl was arrested in Amstetten, a small town in Austria. It has shown that Fritzl sexually abused his daughter, Elisabeth, since she was eleven years old. When she was eighteen years old he locked her up in the basement underneath his house. Fritzl forced his daughter Elisabeth to write a letter to her mother where she stated that she had run away from home and joined a sect. The sexual abuse led to the birth of seven children. Three of these children were raised by Elisabeth in the basement and the other three were raised by Fritzl and his wife. One of the children died a few days after it was born. Furthermore, Fritzl convinced his wife that the three children they raised were exposed by Elisabeth. When one of the children that lived in the basement, the at that time nineteen-year-old Kersten, got ill Elisabeth convinced her father that she needed to be hospitalized. Because Kersten was not registered anywhere, one of the doctors informed the authorities. After this, Elisabeth saw a program on the television in her basement that made a call up for the mother of Kersten. Then she convinced her father to bring her to the hospital, which led to the hearings of Fritzl and Elisabeth and the confessions of the cruelties that took place. After twenty-four years Elisabeth was freed from the basement and reunited with all her children (Wikipedia, 2010).

This affair has received tremendous attention in the media and therefore the case is known all over the world. The affaire encompasses a painful and shameful episode on a national and local basis. Furthermore, the house of Fritzl has become a touristic attraction. Amstetten is dealing with an increasing amount of tourists that come to visit the house. When tourists visit the house, they often take photos of the house and of themselves in front of it. The articles on the internet show that the local authorities find this shocking (HLN, 2010). The phenomenon that people visit places that are associated with death, suffering and violence can be described as dark tourism. Thanatourism is a similar concept and also involves the visiting of locations associated with death and suffering, but an emphasis is placed upon symbolically experiencing a painful death. Another related concept is ‘black spots’, which can be described as commercial cemeteries of famous people or locations where death and suffering took place. The house of Fritzl belongs to such places and visiting this location fits the description of dark tourism and thanatourism. The house of Fritzl, where the abuse and cruelties took place, can be seen as a symbolic reflection of this affaire and its tragic events. Furthermore, the house serves as a tangible object that invokes the memory of the Fritzl-affaire (Yull, 2003: 10-13; Logan en Reeves, 2009: 1-3; Rojek, 1993: 136). The phenomenon that people visit the house of Fritzl inspired me to formulate the following research question: “What are the motivations of dark tourists? The case of the house of J. Fritzl in Amstetten.” It is interesting to find out why tourists visit the house, if the media attention has played a role in the decision of people to visit the house and if certain characteristics, such as age and gender, affect the motivation of these visitors. The case of Fritzl offers a fascinating and recent case to go more in-depth into the motivations of dark tourists.

Scientific and Social Relevance

The scientific relevance of this research question lies in the fact that the subject of dark tourism is relatively new within the academic field. Several articles have been published on this topic, but as Stone (2006) argues: ‘despite this increasing attention the dark tourism literature remains both eclectic and theoretical fragile’ (Stone, 2006: 145). Some researchers have already focused on visitor motivations of dark tourist sites. For example, Yull (2003) investigated why people visit the Holocaust Museum in Houston. However, according to Stone (2006) and Sharpley (2009) research first and foremost has focused on describing the different dark tourist sites, rather than on the consumption and experiences of visitors. This research will contribute to the understanding of visitor participation in dark tourism by taking the visitors of the house of Fritzl as the focal point of this research. Furthermore, the existing research has not focused on the motivations of visitors to dark tourist sites, comparable to the house of Fritzl and therefore this research will add to and fill the gap in the existing literature. The social relevance of this research is harder to determine. However, finding out what the motivations of visitors are, might provide useful and relevant information for directly involved parties, other than the scientific community. For example, this information could offer the local community of Amstetten and (in)direct victims of this case a better understanding of what is going on and with what reasons people visit this site of horror. For example visitors might be motivated to visit this place to pay respect to the victims or remember the cruelties that took place, instead of entertainment purposes. Furthermore, the results of this research could even be relevant to society as a whole, since dark sites similar to the house of Fritzl seem to increasingly pop up and attract visitors world-wide. This research seeks to provide insights into why people are motivated to visit these morbid locations.

Theoretical Concepts and Hypothesized Relations

As mentioned previously, several theoretical concepts are related to the phenomenon where people visit places associated with pain, death and suffering. Academic attention to this phenomenon increased in the twentieth century and several theoretical concepts were introduced. These concepts are black spots (Rojek, 1993), dark tourism (Lennon and Foley, 1996: in Yull, 2003) and thanatourism (Seaton, 1996: in Sharpley, 2009). These ‘dark concepts’ will be briefly discussed in a more or less chronicle order, based on introduction in the literature. Another concept of importance for this research is visitor motivations (Sharpley, 2009: 12-15).

Dark Concepts

Black Spots

Rojek (1993) coined the term black spots and argues that these locations involve commercial cemeteries of famous people or sites where death and suffering took place. In his research, Rojek (1993) also mentions that people increasingly visit these dark sites and that entrepreneurs initiate tours around these black spots. Examples of black spots are the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim-Brzezinka, Ground Zero in New York and the location where Princess Diana got killed in a car crash (Rojek, 1993: 136-145).

Dark Tourism and Thanatourism

Visiting places associated with death, pain and suffering is becoming increasingly popular. However, Sharpley (2009) argues that this is not a new phenomenon. In the Roman Empire, it was a common form of entertainment to attend a gladiators match. Another example are the public executions in the Middle Ages. Traveling to places where death and suffering are central elements can be defined as dark tourism. Furthermore, it involves consuming real or simulated places of death and horror. Visiting these places where actual cruelties took place by relatives or friends of the victims cannot be seen as a form of dark tourism. Thanatourism is a concept which strongly relates to dark tourism and was introduced in the literature in the same year as dark tourism. Thanatourism entails the visiting of locations associated with death and suffering, where visitors want to symbolically experience a painful death. This description points more to the motivations of visitors of dark sites. However, the term dark tourism is usually used in the academic field and no distinction is made between the concepts dark tourism and thanatourism. Therefore, I will use the term dark tourism in this research and make no difference between dark tourism and thanatourism (Lennon en Foley, 2000: 3-5; Yull, 2003: 10, 11; Sharpley, 2009: 3-19). Dark tourism involves the actual visiting of black spots. There are different black spots which are visited daily by tourists and therefore belong to sites of dark tourism. Furthermore, several tours are initiated around dark sites. Commercial motives, in terms of entrance fees, are often involved. Examples are the ‘Jack the Ripper tour’ in London or the tour in Charleroi which shows you, among other dark sites, the house of the famous kidnapper and child molester Marc Dutroux. Visiting morbid museums, old prisons or battle field fall also under the category dark tourism. As discussed previously, the house of Fritzl fits the description of a black spots and increasingly attracts visitors. This research seeks to understand the motivations of these visitors (Stone, 2006: 145, 146, 152; HLN, 2010).

Visitor Motivations

For this research it is necessary to include visitor motivations as a theoretical concept. Motivations of individuals to visit regular tourist places include getting acquainted with other cultures and increase ones knowledge about these locations. Furthermore, motivations often involve entertainment purposes, such as having fun or seeking adventure. Relaxation, revitalization, being active and get close to nature are also common incentives to visit a certain location (Kozak, 2002: 225). However, these motivations of regular touristic locations might differ from motivations of tourists that visit black spots. Unfortunately, few literature is available that focus on visitor motivations of dark tourists. The literature that is accessible, uses similar research questions to the one is used in this research. Yull (2003) studied the motivations of dark tourists and focused more specifically on the motivations of visitors of the Holocaust Museum in Houston. Niemelä (2010) focused on visitor motivations of the House of Terror museum in Budapest. This museum is built to remember the tortured and killed people during World War II. In addition, Poria, Reichel and Biran (2006) chose to investigate the motivations of the visitors of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Although the dark tourist locations used in these researches are museums associated with death and suffering and therefore differ from the dark site that is used in this research, similar motivations may be found. If different motivations are found, it could be argued that this difference is dependent on the specific dark tourist site. According to Yull (2003), motivations of dark tourist could involve entertainment purposes, such as providing a thrill, a novel experience or adventure. Furthermore, remembering the victims and the cruelties that took place or curiosity can also be motivations of tourist that visit the house of Fritzl. Although education might be more suitable as a motivation to visit a museum associated with death and suffering, individuals can also visit the house of Fritzl to learn something. For example, visitors might want to enrich their knowledge about the Fritzl-affaire. In addition, Niemelä (2010) argues that emotional involvement might also play a role in the motivations of dark tourists. Visitors might identify or have a personal connection with the cruelties that took place. Moreover, Poria, Reichel and Biran (2006) include two more motivations; tourists might visit a dark site, because it is famous or because they feel that the site is historically important (Yull, 2003: 146-159, 191-199; Niemelä, 2010: 37; Poria, Reichel and Biran, 2006: 322). The media play an important role within the field of dark tourism. The media can report tragic events that take place all over the world. The attention that the media pay to tragic and horrible events serve as a stimulation for flows of tourism. Furthermore, media has the capacity to ‘bring dark tourism sites to public consciousness’ (Yull, 2003: 125). Additionally, Lennon and Foley (2000) argue that the attention of the media to specific dark sites, might motivate individuals to visit the location in order to experience the reality behind the media representations. Since, the Fritzl-affaire received tremendous attention in the media, it will be likely that this attention has an influence on the motivation of visitors (Stone, 2009: 57; Seaton, 2009: 90; 95, 106; Lennon and Foley, 2000: 152).

Operationalization of Theoretical Concepts

In this section, the operationalization of the theoretical concepts will be discussed. To answer the question “What are the motivations of dark tourists? The case of the house of J. Fritzl in Amstetten”, I will conduct qualitative semi-structured interviews [1] with visitors of the house of Fritzl in Amstetten. This implies that a topic list will be made, consisting of topics that will be addressed in the interview. However, the order in which the topics will be discussed is not fixed and if necessary, the interviewer will probe for more information and adapt to new theme’s that are brought up by the interviewees. Furthermore, the interviewer can adapt to the level of comprehension of the respondents. The questions will be open, which means that no answer categories will be made (‘t Hart, Boeije and Hox, 2007: 274, 275; Gilbert, 2001: 123, 124). Several topics that will be addressed in the interview are outlined. First of all, it is important to include demographic factors of the visitors, such as age, the country the interviewee lives in and the highest obtained level of education (primary school or less, secondary school, intermediate vocational training, higher vocational training, college or post graduate). Furthermore, the gender of the respondent will be noted during the interview. These demographic factors are included, because they are important background variables and might affect the motivations people have to visit the house of Fritzl.

Other topics that will be included will focus upon the motivations of visitors of the house of Fritzl in Amstetten. It will be asked what attracted the visitors to visit Amstetten and what their primary reason is for visiting this town. I will seek to explore whether visitors come specifically for the house or if they have other motives or more than one reason to visit this town. Then, I will focus on the topic of why people visit the house of Fritzl. Although, similar answers to the research on dark tourist motivations described above maybe found, such as entertainment, curiosity, remembrance of the victims and cruelties that took place, emotional involvement, historical importance of the site or its fame, unexpected answers also need to be taken into account. Furthermore, it is essential to go in-depth into the answers and ask for further elaboration if necessary. Additionally, it needs to be explored whether visitors have multiple motivations to visit the house of Fritzl. Seeking to understand motivations of visitors of the house of Fritzl, demands for adapting to possible unexpected answers and the skills to react to this situation adequately. Furthermore, the role of the media will be addressed. Central themes will be, whether visitors are familiar with and interested in the Fritzl-affaire, if they have followed the case in the news, documentaries or on the internet. This will seek to explore whether media attention to the Fritzl-affaire affects the tourists in their motivation to visit the house. Next, I will focus upon if the visitors have previously visited other dark locations, where cruelties have taken place. It will be interesting to find out if there is a relationship between visiting the house of Fritzl and other dark locations and if we are dealing with tourists that have an interest in visiting dark sites in general.

Plan for Data Collection

For this research, the visitors of the house of Fritzl in Amstetten are the objects of study. Hence, it is necessary to come into contact with these visitors. For this research I choose to use qualitative semi-standardized interviews to answer the research question. Qualitative methods are used when a certain research topic is relatively new and unexplored. Furthermore, qualitative methods offer the possibility to go more in-depth into specific aspects of a certain phenomenon. Baarda, de Goede and van der Meer-Middelburg (1996) argue that qualitative interviews are a suitable method when ideas, motivations, opinions and experiences need to be investigated. Since this research seeks to explore the motivations of visitors of the house of Fritzl in Amstetten, it fits this description (‘t Hart et al. 2007: 253; Baarda et al. 1996: 18-20). I choose to use semi-structured, one-to-one interviews. This implies that topics will be formulated and addressed in the interview. Besides demographic questions, specific questions, answer categories or the order of the questions will not be fixed in advance. This gives the interviewer the opportunity to probe for more information if necessary or reflexively respond to new theme’s that might be brought up. This reflexive approach is essential, since motivations of dark tourists is relatively unexplored, especially in regard to locations comparable to the house of Fritzl. This may result in unexpected answers to be brought up. When standardized methods are used, this will not be possible. One-to-one interviews are used, because the interviewees will not be influenced by the opinions of others and may give them the feeling to speak more openly about their motivation(s). Furthermore, confidentiality and anonymity of the data will be guaranteed (Baarda et al., 1996: 18-24, 26-28; ‘t Hart et al. 2007: 254, 261, 262, 267; Gilbert, 2001: 123-129). To interview the research participants of this research it is necessary to go to Amstetten, which is roughly a nine hour drive from Rotterdam. I will spend three days around the house of Fritzl and I will approach the visitors that come by. I will ask them if they are willing to participate in this research. This research requires purposive sampling, because I assume that only a small group of visitors of the house of Fritzl is accessible in these three days and this group will be likely to represent the visitors as a whole. Furthermore, ‘using a probability sample is often unrealistic for small-scale or qualitative research’ (Gilbert, 2001: 62). The duration of the interview will be approximately twenty minutes and the amount of interviewees will depend on the willingness to participate. The aim will be to conduct ten to twenty interviews. Furthermore, the interviews will be recorded. Gilbert (2001) argues that recording is recommendable, especially when conducting non-standardized or semi-structured interviews. This, because this type of carrying out interviews requires an active participation of the interviewer within the conversation. By recording the interview, the data won’t be lost and in contrast to making notes it won’t obstruct or slow down the dialogue. It also signals that the responses of the respondents are taking seriously. Of course, the use of recording will be explained to the interviewees and their approval will be asked. Directly after the interview, notes will be made about the setting, the interview and the interviewee which can be used to recall the context of the particular interview (‘t Hart et al. 2007: 268-270; Gilbert, 2001: 61-63, 135-137).

Plan for Data Analysis

When the data is collected, the analysis of the data will begin. First of all, the recorded interviews will be verbatim transcribed. I choose to write down everything that is said, because then data won’t get lost that might be of significance when the research progresses. Although, transcribing everything is time-consuming and labor-intensive, the low quantity of interviews makes it possible to do so. Furthermore, transcribing the data allows you to get familiar with the data and it helps facilitating thoughts and ideas about possible connections and underlying themes. Before analyzing, the transcripts will be checked by listening to the recordings once more and by carefully reading the written text. The demographic characteristics of the respondents will be shown on the first page of the transcripts. After this, I will offer the transcript to the respondents, so that accuracy can be checked and comments can be made. This improves reliability and validity of the answers (Gilbert, 2001: 134-137). The transcripts will be read repeatedly with the aim to identify underlying themes and connections. By comparing and contrasting fragments within interviews and between interviews, fragments with an underlying connection will be categorized and labeled. Furthermore, it will show whether the earlier described motivations are found in the transcripts, or if new themes will be discovered. Similarities and dissimilarities between different respondents may emerge and might relate to their demographic characteristics. Eventually, the codified themes will be linked and compared to draw a full picture of the motivations of visitors of the house of Fritzl in Amstetten and answer the research question (Gilbert, 2001: 137, 138; ‘t Hart et al. 2007: 176, 277).


Gilbert (2008) describes six properties that a research question should have. The research question should be interesting, relevant, concise, answerable, feasible and ethical. For this research it is necessary to address two of these properties more in-depth, which are the feasibility of this research and its ethical dimensions. The research question, “What are the motivations of dark tourists? The case of the house of J. Fritzl in Amstetten”, is feasible to the extent that it can be answered within a relatively short period of time and with relatively low costs. Furthermore, the research participants are accessible. However, the search for visitors of the house of Fritzl might show difficulties. For this research I will spend three days around the house of Fritzl and approach the tourists that will visit the house. However, it is possible that on these particular days there will be no visitors at all. Consequently, finding research participants might be time-consuming and unpleasant (Gilbert, 2008: 48). According to Gilbert (2008), it is of importance to take into account the ethical dimensions of a research question. While no specific approval is needed from institutions to conduct this research, this research involves a certain sensitivity. The reason for this, is that this study focuses upon an affair where people suffered and were mistreated. Therefore, this affair is sensitive to victims or relatives of these victims. Furthermore, this case might be sensitive to the neighboring residents or the whole community of Amstetten. Spending three days in front of the house of Fritzl to gather the research participants might be offensive to the residents. For example, they might be upset or feel that their privacy is violated. Consequently, it is necessary to work with discretion. Eventual publication of this research also involves ethical implications. Publication might cause harm to the different parties involved (Gilbert, 2008: 48, 49; Gilbert, 2001: 49-53). A last brief comment I would like to make is about the weaknesses of


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Approximately 250 words