The Royal Thai army released this image of the 13 boys and their coach in the cave on July 2, before the successful rescue operation was completed. (image courtesy Royal Thai Army)

Imagine having narrowly survived a two-week spelunking ordeal only to learn that your latest cave trauma will be the subject of your country’s most hotly-anticipated tourist attraction. Thai officials have announced plans to transform the cave complex in Thailand that 12 boys and their 25-year-old assistant coach were trapped in for more than two weeks into a museum. The initiative is being spearheaded by the leader of the rescue mission, Narongsak Osottanakorn, who is a former governor of the region.

The first letter from the boys stuck in a cave in Thailand was a message with no name. (image courtesy Thai Navy Seals)

“This area will become a living museum, to show how the operation unfolded,” he told a news conference. “An interactive database will be set up. It will become another major attraction for Thailand.”

That’s not to say Osottanakorn’s decision was met with overwhelming support. Some government officials showed slight dissent. Thailand’s deputy head of national parks, Chongklai Woraponsathron, said: “In this crisis situation, today, I don’t want to talk about work, but I think the Thai people, we are lucky that we are going to have a world class tourist attraction.”

Cashing in on an international tragedy is nothing new. There are plenty of examples in the West where government officials have museumified such spaces, often called “dark tourism” or “negative heritage” sites in critical literature. An obvious example is the Auschwitz concentration camp, which became a museum just two year after the end of World War II.

“Operation Thai Cave Rescue,” Discovery Channel
In addition to plans for the new museum, there are rumors that a film is already in the works about the cave controversy. Reportedly, representatives of the US film industry were on site during the final day of rescue to see if a movie would be possible. At least two companies are actively looking to make film about the rescue mission.

The cave, called Tham Luang, is one of the largest cave systems in Thailand, but its actually tourist facilities are somewhat limited. The chance to boost tourism in the region through the cave rescue are undeniably hard to pass in this underdeveloped northern province of the country. There is no word if the museum will function year-round or how its profits will be used. As The New York Times has reported, some boys in the Thai cave were stateless refugees who had fled Myanmar for safety.

Zachary Small was a writer at Hyperallergic.