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grief tourist

noun [countable]

a person who travels specifically to visit the scene of a tragedy or disaster

grief tourism

noun [uncountable]

'A NEW word entered the lexicon of our language over the last few days, that of "grief-tourist". If the poor people of Soham in Cambridgeshire did not have enough to contend with, coaches of day-trippers and individual families found this a perfect trip for the summer Bank Holiday.'

Epping Forest Guardian 28th August 2002

'The people of Soham appealed yesterday for an end to the "grief tourism" that is bringing tens of thousands of visitors to their town after the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.'

Daily Telegraph 26th August 2002

In 2002, the town of Soham in Cambridgeshire became the centre of international media attention when two young schoolgirls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, were tragically murdered by the caretaker of their local school. It was in this context that the terms grief tourist and grief tourism first began to emerge, as tens of thousands of people flocked to the town with flowers and tributes. Though many had good intentions, there were others for whom the trip to Soham was regarded as yet another tourist destination, coaches full of tourists even making special detours from the sights of Cambridge to visit the scene of this dreadful crime.

the terms grief tourist and grief tourism have been associated with visitors to Ground Zero in New York

Across the Atlantic, the terms grief tourist and grief tourism have subsequently been associated with visitors to Ground Zero in New York, where, on 11th September 2001, the Twin Towers were demolished by terrorists, with the loss of 3,000 lives. A description of people's behaviour as grief tourism has very disparaging overtones, compared by some to the practice of rubbernecking – driving more slowly on a fast road in order to look at the scene of a motor accident.

Background – grief tourist and grief tourism

An earlier term for grief tourism is the phrase dark tourism, coined in 1997 to describe the phenomenon of people travelling to the scene of a tragedy or disaster to see for themselves the place where it happened.

In the months after the death of Princess Diana in August 1997, the terms recreational grief and mourning sickness were among the descriptions coined amidst a wave of media cynicism about the massive outpouring of public grief. These terms also feature in a recent book by author Patrick West entitled Conspicuous Compassion, published by CIVITAS (The Institute for the Study of Civil Society).

People's extravagant displays of public sorrow for individuals they have never met, such as that following the death of the British TV presenter Jill Dando, are described by West as grief-lite, occasions which are entered into in much the same spirit as other 'enjoyable events' like concerts or football matches.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 21st August 2004.

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