Ghost tours, voodoo experiences and gangster trails are examples of a burgeoning market in holidays that owe more to the theatre and theme parks than to traditional tourism, according to the latest research.
Many of today's holidaymakers resemble actors following and reacting to "scripts" penned by tour operators, who may go to extreme lengths to provide them with dramatic experiences, according to academics attending this weekend's conference on tourism at Sheffield Hallam University.
Carrie Clanton, a research student at Goldsmiths College, University of London, has found that holiday firms are turning walks around castles and cemeteries in Scotland into theme park-style experiences, in which tourists may be lowered into tombs or spooked by technological wizardry.
Meanwhile, Brighton pubs boast the presence of ghosts with sinful or debauched characters that promote the city as a traditional destination for a "dirty weekend", Dr Clanton said.
She said: "When people go on holiday these days, many of them want something more interactive and exciting than just moping around a castle or a city centre. Castles and pubs are using these ghost stories to sell themselves and to tell a story that provides tourists with more of an experience."
Other papers to be presented at the conference explore similar theatrical approaches taken by holiday firms, such as gangster tours in Chicago, voodoo experiences in New Orleans and music tours in the UK.
Mike Robinson, the conference organiser and director of Sheffield Hallam's Centre for Tourism and Cultural Change, said: "The conference will examine how tourists and tour operators use the world like a stage. They follow scripts, provided in brochures, guides and maps, and enter different theatres of reality.
"Often a tourist's reaction to a particular destination has been staged by the tour operator. Whereas in the past tourists were happy with a more sober or historical approach to appreciating a place, now they expect more of an experience."
Professor Robinson said short breaks have put more of a premium on packing in as many highlights as possible in a short time. "It's like going for a short variety performance rather than being ready to sit through a four-hour opera," he said.