What drives the descendants of Holocaust survivors to visit sites associated with the Holocaust - a research from Sapir Academic College & Rosen College of Hospitality Management
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The emotional rollercoaster of dark tourism for Holocaust descendants

What drives the descendants of Holocaust survivors to visit sites associated with the Holocaust - a research from Sapir Academic College & Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

Have you ever wondered what motivates descendants of Holocaust survivors to visit sites associated with the Holocaust? What factors influence the desire of descendants of Holocaust survivors to visit Holocaust-related tourism sites? A recent study highlights how attitudes, motivational factors, and emotions can shape the image of these dark tourism sites and ultimately impact the intent to visit. The research was conducted among 243 second-generation Holocaust survivors residing in Israel. By analyzing the data, the study examines the mediating role of the site’s image and the moderating influence of health constraints. The article provides a theoretical framework based on Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behavior (1991) and an extended model proposed by Hsu and Huang. It explores the impact of emotions, motivations, and destination images on dark tourism experiences.

The role of emotions in consumption experiences at these sites is a prominent research area in consumer behaviour, psychology, tourism, and hospitality literature. Visitors to dark tourism sites often experience emotions such as grief, sorrow, sadness, horror, anger, and disgust. These emotions play a pivotal role in shaping the site’s image, subsequently influencing individuals’ attitudes and intentions to visit. Notably, survivors and their descendants of the Holocaust may have a heightened emotional connection to these sites due to their connection with the historical events.

The Complex Dynamics of Emotions

The complex dynamics involving attitudes, motivations, and emotions, such as animosity and grief, play a crucial role in shaping the inclination of second-generation Holocaust survivors to visit dark tourism sites. A strong desire to gain a deeper understanding of the Holocaust is positively associated with perceptions of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. On the other hand, animosity towards Poland as the destination has been found to have a negative impact on the overall perception of the site.  A significant finding emerges, demonstrating a positive correlation between grief and the survivors’ inclination to visit the site and their perception of its image. Moreover, a notable positive relationship between grief and animosity towards Poland is identified.

The significance of respondents’ emotional connection to the country where a dark tourism attraction is situated is emphasised. The image of the site plays a crucial role in mediating the influence of respondents’ attitudes, emotions of animosity and grief, heritage motivations, and their intent to visit the destination. Effective management and understanding of the destination image are essential for attracting visitors. Site managers and designers can enhance visitor engagement by addressing emotions, providing accurate historical context, and creating a meaningful and sensitive experience. Involving survivors and their families in designing and operating dark tourism attractions is suggested to foster a more inclusive and impactful experience for visitors.

Attitudes and heritage motivations

The influence of emotions on the attitudes and intentions of direct descendants of Holocaust survivors towards dark tourism sites is substantiated. Additionally, animosity towards a specific destination can detrimentally affect its reputation as a dark tourism site. The degree of heritage experience, signifying visitors’ emotional connection to a heritage site, also significantly shapes the desire to visit dark tourism sites. The Theory of Planned Behavior serves as a pertinent framework for comprehending the motivations and attitudes of visitors in this context.

The practical implications for site managers and designers of dark tourism attractions are evident. Acknowledging the emotions and attitudes of survivors and descendants is crucial for creating a respectful and enriching experience. Incorporating survivor perspectives and involving them in the design process can contribute to a more authentic and meaningful encounter with history at dark tourism attractions. 

To gain a more comprehensive understanding, future exploration should encompass the emotions and attitudes of diverse visitor groups, allowing for comparing their experiences to identify variations in motivations and perceptions. Furthermore, it would be valuable to investigate the implications of survivor involvement in the design and operation of dark tourism attractions. Such research could show how this involvement impacts visitor experiences and enhances empathy and understanding within hosting destinations.

Our research!

This scientific article focuses on understanding what motivates descendants of Holocaust survivors when it comes to their inclination to visit Holocaust tourism sites. Our research includes attitudes, motivational factors, and emotions that shape perceptions about dark tourism sites related to this tragedy using data from 243 second-generation Israeli citizens who survived this catastrophe. 

Our analysis provides an overview using Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behavior and Hsu and Huang’s extended model – exploring a range of emotions linked with visits, including grief, sorrow or horror, while highlighting motivations such as the need for historical exploration or religious commemoration – emphasizing their importance towards survivors/their descendants who have personal connections to these tragic events. 

This study confirms several hypotheses about survivors’ emotions and attitudes toward Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum – indicating that curiosity positively impacts the perception of the site, whereas animosity equals negativity – negatively affecting the image of the attraction. Grief is positively associated with both interests in visiting locations while making its perception more favourable.

Credit. Midjourney

The way visitors perceive such attractions linked directly relates to tourists’ connection through their history or association made between locations located within certain countries- which we highlight within our findings, showing how acknowledging emotions plays an essential part in drawing visitors. Understanding destination image is crucial in attracting visitors by addressing emotions and providing accurate historical context whilst offering meaningful experiences that enhance the relationship between visitors with these sites and their reflections on history.

The study advocates for including survivors and their families in designing dark tourism attractions as it could enhance visitors’ experience by making it more comprehensive and influential. Site managers and designers must take note of the study’s findings as they are practical when designing such places. Considering the feelings of survivors’ descendants is essential to offer them respectful, emotionally fulfilling encounters. Involving survivor perspectives can render an authentic encounter with history to tourists who visit these places by contributing to emotional depth. 

However, this research has limitations since it focused solely on second-generation Holocaust survivors using purposeful samples from Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum as context for studying this subject matter further. The future scope could be large-scale research to identify differences among visitor groups about experiencing these atrocities considering motivation or background perceptions.

Suggestions for future research

To investigate better what impact survivor inputs could have on creating empathetic environments during these visits’ designing phases would be beneficial and further research should be conducted. Moreover, understanding the relationship between negative attitudes and dark tourism site experiences is essential for a more comprehensive understanding of these phenomena. One crucial aspect that affects the inclination to visit dark tourism sites is the level of heritage experience perceived by visitors. This pertains to how connected visitors feel toward a heritage site. To comprehend the intentions and attitudes of tourists in this context, the Theory of Planned Behavior offers an appropriate framework.

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Journal reference

Abraham, V., Pizam, A., & Medeiros, M. (2022). The impact of attitudes, motivational factors, and emotions on the image of a dark tourism site and the desire of the victims’ descendants to visit it. Journal of Heritage Tourism17(3), 264-282. https://doi.org/10.1080/1743873X.2021.1955892

Dr. Villy Abraham holds a DBA in International Marketing and Consumer Behavior from Manchester Business School (2012). Dr. Abraham is the Department Chairperson at the Technology Marketing Department at Sapir Academic College. Dr. Abraham's research interests include consumer animosity, tourist behavior, conspicuous consumption, and dark tourism. Dr. Abraham's work has been published in leading journals such as Tourism Management, International Marketing Review, and Tourism Review. Additionally, Dr. Abraham serves as an ad-hoc reviewer for Tourism Review, Current Issues in Tourism, International Journal of Consumer Studies, International Marketing Review, and International Business Review.

Abraham Pizam is the founding dean (2000-2018) of Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida. He currently serves as Professor and Linda Chapin Eminent Scholar Chair in Tourism Management. Professor Pizam is widely recognized in the field of Hospitality and Tourism Management and has conducted research projects, lectured, and served as a consultant in over 30 countries. He has held various academic positions in Austria, Australia, France, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Slovakia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.A. Professor Pizam has authored more than 250 publications, including 180 scientific articles and ten books. His publications have received over 20,000 citations, and he has an h-index of 66. Additionally, he holds the esteemed position of Editor Emeritus of the International Journal of Hospitality Management and serves on the editorial boards of 26 academic journals. Professor Pizam has undertaken consulting and research projects for various international, national, and regional tourism organizations.

He earned a master’s degree from New York University and a Ph.D. from Cornell University and has received several academic awards for his contributions to the field.

Marcos Medeiros is a Ph.D. student at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida. He holds the position of Graduate Research and Teaching Associate and is currently engaged in research projects related to Hospitality Finance, Real Estate, Travel Technology, and Financial Behavior. Combining his former investment banking experience with his academic interests, Mr. Medeiros is dedicated to pursuing his doctoral degree. He boasts over 25 years of industry experience, having worked in the wholesale and corporate banking divisions of international banks in various countries, including Brazil, Spain, France, and the USA.

Mr. Medeiros obtained a master’s in science degree from the Rosen College of Hospitality Management in Orlando, USA, and also holds a master’s in business administration from the IE Business School in Madrid, Spain.