The phenomenon of travelling to places associated with death, sufferance, disasters, mysticism, has diversified and spread very much in the last century (Stone and Sharpley, 2008). However, only relatively recent travels generically called “dark tourism” have captured the attention of researchers (Foley and Lennon, 1996a; Lennon and Foley, 2000).
Foley and Lennon (1996b) were the first to use the term “dark tourism”, referring to the relation between tourism and places or experiences associated with death and defining the concept as “supply and consumption (by visitors), of places associated with death or natural disasters”. Most definitions of “dark tourism” focus on sites or objectives that represent attractions for the tourists rather than on their motivation (Uzell, 1992; Rojek, 1993; Ryan and Kohli, 2006; Stone, 2006).
The diversity of attractions associated with death is extremely vast, including elements such as “Dracula Experience”, “Ground Zero”, Normandy beaches, Auschwitz etc. thus making it difficult to formulate a typology (Stone and Sharpley, 2008).
Regardless, sightseeing places former places of deaths, sufferance or real or simulated tragedies, where tourists pay or not for having access represent attractions of dark tourism (Stone, 2005).
Attempts to classify touristic objectives specific to dark tourism have been made by Dann (1998) or Stone (2006). The latter includes in his classification as a component “entertainment factories of the darkness”, where there are included attractions and experiences that highlight imaginary or real death, macabre events, but are focused on entertainment and the commercial side (Stone, 2006).
To exemplify the category, the author mentions also the project “Dracula Park”. In order to support the benefits brought by the association of various cultural or historical touristic objectives with the legend of Conte Dracula, Muzaini et al. (2007) claim the fact that dark tourism favours “the visual” and “the experimental” in confront to the need for historical rigour.
Bittner (2011) argues that some of the attractions of dark tourism are represented by touristic objectives that fall in the category of cultural tourism. Moreover, such representative touristic objectives can bring their contribution to building a national identity and the message received by tourists contribute to the image of the destination (White and Frew, 2013).
Two aspects that cannot be neglected by the management of destinations specific to dark tourism are the place’s authenticity in tourists’ view and the manner in which they interpret the events that occurred here (Miles, 2002).
The analysis of consumers’ perceptions related to touristic objectives and the experiences associated to them allow site management to create and promote interpretations that can attract tourists (White and Frew, 2013).
As for the demand of dark tourism, Dann (1998) identifies eight motivations that could determine tourists to visit these places or experiences associated with death, among which can be mentioned “bloodlust”, desire for novelty, nostalgia.
Stone (2012) claims that tourists are driven by the desire to visit attractions of dark tourism either for new life experience or for an adventure that would help them understand certain things.
Anyway, an aspect that definitely characterises dark tourism is tourists’ experience in interpreting the events that took place at the site visited (Miles, 2002).
A very interesting study is the one made by Stone and Sharpley (2008) that analyse the relationship between the socio-cultural perspectives on death and the potential of dark tourism as means of confronting or accepting death in today’s modern society.
The purpose of the study has been materialised in a pattern/model for dark tourism consumption in a thanatological context. Also, it should not be overlooked the fact that “black” sites and experiences are often promoted or provided for political and educational purpose, for entertainment or for economic gain (Ashworth and Hartmann, 2005).
In 1897, Bram Stoker published the novel ‘Dracula’. This tells the story of a vampire from Transylvania who travels to England with the intention of spreading his vampirism cult.
Dracula enjoyed a high popularity since its publication and determined an extraordinary spread of the “vampire subculture” in the second half of the twentieth-century (Melton, 1999).
More than 200 movies that featured Dracula as the main character, more than 1000 books on vampires or Dracula, numerous television programs, comics (Light, 2007), social networks, video games etc. contributed to building the popular culture (Bolan and Williams, 2008) around this character.
Even though there are not any concrete data available, mass media influence upon tourism is unquestionable (Reijnders, 2011). After the fall of communism in Romania, the number of foreign tourists in search of “Dracula’s myth” increased (Banyai, 2010). However, even though Dracula’s image attracted numerous tourists since then, the Romanian state has been reluctant to supporting and developing this image (Huebner, 2011).
So, “Dracula Tourism” (the phrase “Dracula Tourism” is used by authors such as light (2007), Hovi (2008), Banyai (2010), Reijnders (2010), Huebner (2011)) represents a determined form of tourism or created by demand, form that is, to some extent, in discordance with the manner in which the Romanian state perceives itself or wants to be perceived by others (Light, 2007).
At the moment, the exploitation of Dracula’s myth is done by tourism operators and private travel agencies. There are few tourism packages, which vary between three and seven nights, offered by tourism agencies such as J’info Tour or Fabiola Turism, but that mostly focus on the Prince Vlad Ţepeş and historical reality.
However, the Minister of Tourism, Maria Grapini and local authorities from six counties in Transylvania seek to promote Dracula’s myth through a tourism product as excitant as possible for those fascinated by vampires, respectively by dark tourism.
In this category also falls the “Dracula Tour”, a tourist circuit of seven days by car through various places in Romania, package offered by a tourism agency from the United States of America that is specialised on the segment called “terror tours” (Reijnders, 2010).
Nobody can dispute the fact that tourism based on Dracula’s myth has a tremendous impact on Romania’s international image and on the local touristic industry (Reijnders (2010).
Huebner (2011) suggests — the current study suggests this as well, that the entire region (especially Transylvania) should try to capitalise, from an economic and cultural point of view, Dracula’s myth.
Dan Matei Agathon, former Minister of Tourism and the current President of the Federation of Enterprises in Tourism and Services in Romania claims that “the Dracula Project for promoting Transylvania represents the most profitable development strategy for regional tourism and must be managed without reservation or prejudice” (Negrescu, 2013).
The successful development of tourism around Dracula’s myth requires relevant market researches. Among these, cannot be overlooked the one regarding the expectations of potential tourists, which then allows the creation of a market segmentation strategy, target and positioning as efficient as possible. Thus, at this moment, the study on American consumers’ perceptions on the possibility of spending a holiday in Romania for discovering Dracula’s myth seems highly appropriate.
The premise of the study assumes the existence of a connection between Americans’ attraction towards dark tourism, vampires and a travel to discover Dracula’s myth. Its verification would allow a clear positioning of the tourism product created.