Welcome to Wuhan — The ​New Dark Tourism Destination

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The world is on a break… The Covid-19 Pandemic has ghosted our entire planet. Even New York, the city that never sleeps is now in a coma. Tourism has completely stopped with no hope of complete recovery any time soon. But what about the future? Even the worst historical events may cause the appearance of new tourism opportunities, defined as “Dark Tourism” destinations. 

What is Dark Tourism? It is a type of tourism where people travel to places associated with historical death and tragedy. That can include genocide, assassination, incarceration, ethnic cleansing, war or disaster — either natural or accidental.

Why is it important? Dark tourism is one of the most rapidly growing types of tourism in recent years. In the beginning it was a very specific niche, but throughout the years, the concept has been expanded and new dark tourism destinations have risen. For instance, Ground Zero in the USA, Chernobyl in Ukraine, Costa Concordia Shipwreck in Italy and many more which have already become world well-known destinations, showing a steadily growing number of visitors every year.

Don’t you think that Wuhan which is the origin city of the Covid-19 virus that was spread at the end of 2019 and caused more than 350,000 deaths may become the new dark tourism destination?
  • Huge historical event
  • A massive presence in mass media
  • The strong connection to the tragedy

The level of impact of the epidemic on the world economy and the number of deaths combined, has exceeded major events in human history.

The topic of the Coronavirus is everywhere on TV, YouTube, and social media, and has been integrated in art and music.

There are so many people who got affected directly or indirectly by Covid-19 that there is almost no one that is completely apathetic.

  • Lack of concrete attractions
  • The Chinese government

Since the epidemic has left only a few physical locations until now, but more may appear in the future.

The Chinese government put a lot of effort into avoiding the association of China (and Wuhan in particular) with the virus. For example, the first name of Covid-19 was the “Wuhan Virus”.

All of the above arguments represent the characteristics of the push and pull factors of Wuhan as a dark tourism destination. The Coronavirus theme of the city creates a strong motivation for dark tourists to visit. It is clear that the demand is expected to be high. Whereas, from the supply side it is hard to expect any support from the Chinese government. However, local stakeholders will be interested in converting this demand into incomes.

Who should be aware of Wuhan as a new destination? 

  • Travel companies working with the Chinese domestic and inbound tourists will be the first who will recognize the interest in Wuhan and the tragedy related places. Including Wuhan in existing tours and creating authentic personalized tours will be a good idea.

  • Wuhan tour guides. As nowadays many city tour guides work independently finding clients via the Internet, they will also be among the first to observe the demand in Covid-19 thematic tours.

  • International tour agencies. When tourism in general recovers and the global situation becomes stable, dark tourists from all around the world will start exploring new destinations. Some researches state that the new dark tourism destinations tend to be the “darkest” because of the high level of empathy shown by tourists towards those who suffered the recent tragedy. Interests among other tourists to visit Wuhan will be growing too, their visitation will be predisposed by cultural or educational motivations.

Is dark tourism ethical?

Ethicality is the first thing to consider when managing a dark tourism product or service. Tourists visiting the sites of the tragedy have to be respectful to the people who suffered from the epidemic.

To avoid contradictions, sharing people’s experiences rather than personal opinions when it comes to dark tourism products is important, to allow tourists to receive a pure experience of the events that happened on site.

Wuhan dark tourism sites

Although many sources mentioned that the animals consumed in the wet market are the source of the disease, the investigations are not yet complete to discover the original source of the virus. This market has a huge potential to become the first dark tourism site in Wuhan due to its authenticity, fame, and unique dark experiences that it can provide to visitors. The Huanan market, for example, has a wild animal section where live and slaughtered species are sold: snakes, beavers, porcupines and baby crocodiles are sold on a daily basis. Visiting this place manifests how ignoring sanitary rules and practicing poor hygiene may lead to a worldwide epidemic.

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Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market

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Huoshenshan and Leishenshan Hospitals

Huoshenshan and Leishenshan Hospitals were constructed on an urgent basis to become the first two specialized hospitals where Covid-19 infected patients were treated.  The Wuhan government has already closed these hospitals. The buildings may be reconstructed or used for other purposes, but it will be a great idea to dedicate some part of the building as a memorial site to attract “dark” and “grey” tourists in the future.

China has reported that they have already stopped the epidemic in Wuhan. However, we may still expect new Covid-19 related sites to appear, which may be the interests of dark tourists. For example, crematoriums, funerals, cemetery sites or special memorial monuments that can be built by the Chinese government to attract tourists in the future.

Moreover, in this article we are only talking about Wuhan, but the pandemic is worldwide so there is no doubt that coronavirus related dark tourism attractions are expected to appear in other places as well.

This is how we see the future of Wuhan as a dark tourism destination

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When the travel industry starts to recover, the first tourists going to Wuhan, apart from business travelers, will be journalists and bloggers. They will try to capture exclusive contents and experiences from Wuhan to gain more followers and credibility, which will warm up the interest among early adopters to this new dark tourism destination.

Domestic tourism will be the most popular type of tourism for at least two years from now. That being said, Chinese travelers will be the first who will visit the new dark tourism destination.

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The interests will start to grow steadily among other tourists as well. While Wuhan might not become the main reason that people travel to China, it will definitely be included in the itinerary.

Wuhan will have new marketing and advertising campaigns, which travelers will experience, although the Chinese government might stand against that.

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Even in times of tragedy, innovation can still play a crucial role towards a successful future.

Authors: Alexey Petrash, Aznive Boghossian, Ikram Ouazzani Touhami

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