Professor promotes tourism on America’s ‘roads to hell’

May 20, 2014 | Features, Research, UToday, — Languages, Literature and Social Sciences
By Samantha Watson

There is a growing consensus that modern mass tourism is neither economically nor environmentally sustainable, but Dr. David Nemeth suggests a viable alternative.



Nemeth, UT professor of geography and planning, believes “dark niche” destination tourism has the potential to revitalize pockets of distressed rural economies in America. He specifically focuses on roadways numbered 666 and “phantasmal niche” destinations, where visitors experience imagined supernatural, magical or mystical allure with a touch of evil.

“One of the big enemies of scientific method is called the fallacy of selective thinking, or confirmation bias,” Nemeth said. “If you have an expectation to see something, then you’re going to see it. If you expect to see the beast, you will.”

The number 666 carries a dark connotation because of its ties with Satan in the Christian faith. In the Bible, Revelation 13:18 states, “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six.”

Nemeth co-authored an article with Dr. Deborah Che, lecturer at the Southern Cross University School of Tourism and Hospitality Management in Australia, about the idea of capitalizing on roads numbered 666. The article, “Alternative Tourism Geographies: Leveraging the Ironic Case of Pennsylvania’s Route 666 for Economic Development,” was originally published in Applied Geography and featured by the London School of Economics and Political Science in December.

The article focuses specifically on the David Zeisberger Highway (Route 666) in Pennsylvania, which already has some appealing irony because it’s named for the well-known missionary. Areas along Pennsylvania 666 are in rapid decline due to regional deindustrialization and depopulation, which make it an ideal place for revitalization through the promotion of dark-niche tourism, according to Nemeth.

“You have this odd juxtaposition of good and evil at this one place,” he said.

Dark-niche tourism focuses on historic death and tragedy and has been successful in other parts of the world. The tourism ranges from “very dark,” such as tours of Auschwitz, to “very light,” which is where these “roads to hell” fall, Nemeth said.

In total, there are about 58 roads in the United States numbered 666, and that figure is decreasing because religious groups have petitioned local governments to change the digits. The most famous case is that of Routes 491 and 191, a former Route 666 that circled the Four Corners of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona. It appeared to be a noose shape around the Four Corners, which looked like a crucifix, Nemeth said.

Click here to read the article by Nemeth and Che in Applied Geography.

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