Dark Tourism and an Orchestra of Emotions in the Darkness

Ilze Grinfeld

Ilze Grinfeld

Creativity has become a synonym of new models of production and consumption, adding the new values and elements that contribute to the touristic growth of a locality. It is a sign of contemporary thinking that contributes as a revitaliser for some regions, destinations and sites.

Creativity can promote a new way of tourism opening the door to a variety of themes, activities, experiences, combined with different levels of participation of tourists from the perspective of both — service providers and visitors (Messineo, 2012).

In terms of tourism as multidimensional phenomena creativity aspect is vague often associated with new layers, products, adding ideas, however, the risk is hidden in non-critical attitude which could end up in lost authenticity, identity and core values.

It is obvious that recently the cultural tourism market is being over-flooded with new attractions, cultural routes and heritage centres that result in the serial reproduction and adaptation of already used ideas, approaches in experience design of culture in different destinations.

Ongoing process results in superficial and non-critical attitude from visitors and suppliers start to concentrate on new, lower value markets. Consequently, the customer becomes more demanding and the trend of skilled consumption in post-modern society with the aim to form identity and to acquire cultural capital (Richards, 2010; Richards & Wilson, 2006).

Developers of contemporary tourism products are concerned how to make their products more attractive and competitive, literally emphasizing creativity in product communication; however, uncomfortable heritage-based tourism products do not follow the same track due to sensitivity issues and its aim to educate, construct and pass-on collective memory.

A number of memory sites (such as memorials, expositions, museums) have been established in the former Soviet states to honour and remember the victims of the Communist regime (CR).

These sites are significant for the local population and recently have been recognised as heritage that could be utilised in tourism — as a dark tourism product. Nevertheless, there are still only a few cases where a particular “unwanted” heritage has been packed as a tourism product.

Not necessarily there is a need for over-creative transformation and uncomfortable heritage sites might be the case where creative tourism product design might be evaluated differently. For example, Avital Biran, Yaniv Poria and Gila Oren claim that in the context of dark tourism it entails not only natural fascination for death, in some research mentioned as the primary reason but also a quest for authentic experiences (2011).

Dark tourism, as rather a new form of tourism, often causes moral and ethical dilemmas for governmental bodies and managers (Minić, 2012).

Post-Soviet heritage is more often used in dark tourism context in many cities of Eastern Europe and one such heritage site is Committee for State Security (in Russian: Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti) Building (CSSB) that functions as museum of CR victims in Riga, Latvia.

Uncomfortable heritage in post-Soviet countries has recently aroused researchers’ interest in different fields, also in tourism (Caraba, 2011; Ivanov, 2009; Isaac & Budryte-Ausiejiene, 2015; Velmet, 2011) and we join the discussion by exploring the case of the Committee State Security Museum (CSSM) in Riga from the perspective of visitors.

So far, studies of CR associated heritage sites in a dark tourism context are under-researched in the Baltic states and other Eastern Bloc countries due to its sensitivity, high emotional load, and temporal proximity, shortage of information have.

The previous articles have been mostly descriptive and focused on public memory, politics and the visualisation of a particular heritage to implicate a sense of socialism.

The CSSB in Riga has opened to visitors only a few years ago and gained immediate popularity in terms of visitors. The authenticity of the museum is indisputable as it is located in the old CSS headquarters and has original interiors together with the number of repressed victims that define the site as one the darkest in Latvia.

The CSSB is an affiliate of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia (MOL), and there is limited experience in introducing visitors to such an uncomfortable heritage. The CSSM in Riga has been selected as a case, because it is the only CSSM in the Baltic states, which has not undergone any changes to accommodate the museum expositions. Therefore it exposes the highest level of authenticity, which is an essential factor in the context of emotions.

The research related to the CSSB and its work with visitors can be helpful for dark tourism sites to find a balance between creativity and authentic simplicity in the designing visitors’ on-site experience. The study aims to explore visitors’ emotions during a visit to CSSB in Riga and the role of a creative tourism product design in stimulating emotions.

The main data source for the analysis of visitors’ on-site experience and emotions are post-visit comments on TripAdvisor. Such a method for data collection was chosen because technology-mediated communication has a great impact on satisfaction, trust-building, commitment and future intentions. Content analysis was chosen as the main data analysis method.

Additionally, the internet as a socio-technical system is virtually in every sphere of our social lives offering different modes of communication, sharing, performing and displaying of emotion ingredients with a high interaction level and research on displays of public emotion on the internet has emerged and become a challenging field capturing the interest of psychologists, computer science researchers, communication experts etc. (Benski & Fisher, 2014; Küster & Kappas, 2014)

The article is structured as follows: at the beginning, we will present a review of the CSSB in the context of dark tourism. Then we move on to a literature review of the role of emotions in tourist satisfaction before describing and analysing the research results.

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