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, reflect on their lives (or the lives of their favorite buried celebrities), and discover exquisite surroundings. 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:
1. Digital Tourism
The number of tourists who physically visit a grave site is minimal compared to surging interest in online exploration (e.g., website visits, online searches, connecting via social media channels).
- Records provide a valuable resource: For those interested in tracing their heritage, many cemeteries have or are in the process of recording the details of all burials and cremations. This information is made available 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.
- Social media connects online communities: The increased ability for consumers to access information and records online has also inspired some parts of the industry to extend their digital presence, including using social media channels such as Facebook to connect with possible customers and promote their services.
- Website interfaces respond to online inquiries: Additionally, having a website with the ability to accept booking inquiries and records inquiries is important in an age when people are less likely to arrange a funeral face to face, or don't want to pick up the phone to inquire about records.
A website and social media presence each offer a greater level of transparency over the industry and well as a way to clearly present options available to families.
2. Cemetery / Tombstone Tourism
Many of the larger cemeteries now offer themed tours such as evening 'ghost' tours, lamplight tours, architectural and monument tours, historical tours, self-guided audio tours, and more.
- Rising appreciation of cultural significance: Cemeteries provide 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 fully appreciated by visiting cemeteries in person.
- Earning support from government: 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.
- Boosting revenue: Many retired and private cemeteries (which no longer perform new burials) benefit from the rise in physical tourism, as visitors generate much-needed funds in order to maintain the property. Without new funds coming in, property maintenance falls to "Friends Of" cemetery groups and volunteers. Tourism generates renewed interest from local communities who invest time and money into them.
3. Digital Mapping
GPS mapping is being used to identify and display memorial locations.
- Never get lost: GPS mapping helps visitors to cemeteries negotiate the grounds.
- Visit from afar: This same GPS mapping technology allows visitors who are geographically remote to view these locations, and even see photos of headstones and memorials.
- Manage inventory: Mapping also allows cemeteries and crematoriums to manage the inventory of locations, thus consumers get an instant view of availability.
Are your local cemeteries capitalizing on tourism?
Historically cemeteries were designed as parks to encourage visitors and mourners to explore. As attitudes toward death and the industry change, and as 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. 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.