The last decade has seen a boom in cemetery tourism, sometimes called Tombstone Tourism.
With the rising interest in genealogy, more people are hunting out cemeteries to find their ancestors or just out of plain curiosity. After all, each grave site is an example set in stone (or bronze) of the architecture, art, culture, and history of the time of death as well as of the individual's final wishes.
This unprecedented level of interest is reshaping the business of cemeteries in three major ways:
ONE: Digital Tourism
The number of in-person tourists is minimal compared to the exposure to online interest.
Many cemeteries have or are in the process of recording the details of all burials / cremations. This information is provided online through various registers and often links to the major genealogy sites. The information is for the most part freely available to anyone with access to the internet.
This growth in a digital presence has also led some parts of the industry to use social channels such as Facebook to connect with possible customers and to promote their services in an age when people are less likely to want to arrange a funeral face to face. Also, allowing a greater level of transparency over the industry and options available to families.
TWO: Cemetery / Tombstone Tourism
Many of the larger cemeteries now offer tours; some at night 'ghost' tours and other curiosity or historical tours.
Cemeteries provide a historical insight into the beliefs and culture at the time of death. Traditionally more affluent burials included stunning artistic and ornate tombstones or crypts which can only be seen in real life in cemeteries.
Small cemeteries and local government bodies are also experiencing a renewed interest in their cemeteries; allowing them to promote these sites as part of their local attractions and events.
Many retired and private cemeteries, with no new funds coming in from burials, benefit from this tourism as currently it falls to "friends of" groups and volunteers to manage these sites and any interest generated in them brings in much-needed funding and while also creating an interest from local communities who invest time and money into them.
THREE: Digital Mapping
GPS mapping is being used to identify and display memorial locations.
This helps visitors to cemeteries negotiate the grounds and this same technology allows visitors who are geographically remote to view these locations and even see photos of headstones and memorials.
Mapping also allows cemeteries and crematoriums to manage the inventory of locations, thus consumers get an instant view of availability.
Historically cemeteries were designed as parks to encourage visitors and mourners to explore – as attitudes towards death and the industry change, and the interest in genealogy continues to grow it makes perfect sense that cemeteries, crematoriums and memorial gardens are the next hot tourist destination.
And it's not just the bigger cemeteries contributing to this growth; there are many websites collecting and maintaining information on cemeteries gathered by volunteers. These sites allow visitors to cemeteries to post photos, transcribed headstone inscriptions and provide general cemetery information for the wider public to view. Meaning many of the smaller historical, private or retired cemeteries are now visible to an international audience in a way that has never been possible before.
I wonder which of your local cemeteries are capitalizing on tourism?