Syria, Somalia, Ukraine, and Afghanistan; not places that are registering high on the ‘must see’ lists of vacationers at present, but high on the ‘will go’ index of specialised tour companies promoting war tourism for the adventure traveller who just can’t get at the adventure kicks from the beaches of Benidorm or the sun of San Tropez.
War tourism, or dark tourism and even slum tourism is on the rise from a growing consumer demand for access to the realities behind the images, sounds and stories that are sent through TV screens, social media or press. While the prices aren’t cheap, the opportunity to get in to locations where conflict or the risk level of danger through conflict is has created a niche in tourism, and often much needed cash for the support of trusted locals in these zones.
And it’s not just private enterprise that has picked up on the opportunity of war tourism.
In May this year, the Syrian regime unveiled proposals to lure visitors to the Assad heartland of Lattakia, by upgrading a public beach and supporting the development of restaurants, upmarket cafes and shops. Right now may not be the best time for a trip to the beach in Lattakia considering that rebel Islamist groups marched towards the province in late March and required Assad to reposition some of its forces from other areas to bolster the city defences, but in the wider context of vacationing in conflict areas, Syria is as attractive as any other war zone.
Meanwhile, war tourism providers are busy vetting customers who may range from the conscientious or concerned voyeur, to the client who expects to be handed an AK-47 along with a license to satisfy his or her battle fantasy. There has to be a thin line between morbid curiosity about the catastrophes of others and a genuine desire to understand the world’s most sensitive areas.