Asia’s Disaster Tourism Over the Line?

Travel Blog  •  Julia Ross  •  03.05.09 | 5:27 PM ET

As we noted yesterday, two new disaster-themed tourist sites are set to open in Asia this month: a museum to commemorate the 2004 tsunami that leveled Indonesia’s Aceh province, and previously off-limits ruins and a museum related to the May 2008 earthquake in China’s Sichuan province. We can debate the pros (local economic development) and cons (unwelcome voyeurism) of disaster tourism, but the descriptions of these two new sites seem to me to cross a line.

Of the tsunami museum, the BBC reports, “Inside, visitors enter through a dark, narrow corridor between two high walls of water—meant to recreate the noise and panic of the tsunami itself.”

At the Sichuan earthquake sites, AFP reports, “Tour groups will be able to go boating on a ‘quake lake’ and visit a museum featuring an ‘earthquake simulation.’”

There’s a fun house aspect to this that I don’t like at all. It’s one thing to establish a museum to educate the public on a disaster’s impact and pay homage to lives lost, but to make the experience entertaining? It’s just plain inappropriate.

When I visited New York’s Ground Zero about four months after 9/11, I found staring into the gaping hole in lower Manhattan unforgettable enough. No simulations needed.

Julia Ross is a Washington, DC-based writer and frequent contributor to World Hum. She has lived in China and Taiwan, where she was a Fulbright scholar and Mandarin student. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Time, Christian Science Monitor, Plenty and other publications. Her essay, Six Degrees of Vietnam, was shortlisted for "The Best American Travel Writing 2009."

3 Comments for Asia’s Disaster Tourism Over the Line?

anne 03.06.09 | 11:08 AM ET

What the heck is wrong with these people?  I live in NY and after experiencing 11 September live the last thing I would want to do is relive it, or ask anyone else to see how they feel with some sort of inane simulation.

Lindsey 03.06.09 | 4:07 PM ET

I agree. That’s just really sick. Like you said, educating people is great, but simulations?? Disasters that claimed many lives are incredible tragedies, not theme park rides. Horrible.

beichuan 03.07.09 | 2:32 PM ET

This is the most heartless decision I’ve ever heard. the humanitarian crisis is far from being over in beichuan and other hardest-hit regions. people are killing themselves one after another… NO MUSEUM SHOULD BE CONSIDERED till the survivors get to move into permanent shelters.

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