Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Travel Trend Tuesday: War Tourism – Dangerous or Enlightening?

Every time the news comes on these days, there is another story about the horrors in war-torn areas of the world: Israel and the Gaza Strip, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq. These places are in the midst of violence, corruption, destruction and terror. People tuning in around the world – myself included – witness the abhorrence in these countries, and the idea of visiting them moves to the far reaches of our minds. At least for most of us. For some extreme souls, traveling to these countries, especially during war and terrorism, is worth the risk.

A tourist tank in Afghanistan. Credit: Todd Huffman/Flickr
According to Wikipedia, War Tourism is recreational travel to war zones for sightseeing and superficial voyeurism. This is a growing trend in the industry that brings travelers to countries and regions impacted by conflict. These danger zones may not be the soul focus of the trip, but they are part of the package of experiences people get in those countries. It's a new way to see the turmoil. You are no longer hiding behind a television screen, the battles are there in front of you. The area is interesting for people, they become a part of what is happening there, and then they take that experience home with them with unparalleled anecdotes and images to share.

Apparently, this kind of tourism isn't new. It dates back as far as the Civil War – possibly further –  when armies were trailed by spectators. But those incidents were most likely due to people living nearby coming out to watch the battles taking place on their doorsteps. Today, it's more commercialized, more formal. And the internet makes it much more accessible.

The trend is an extreme breed of adventure tourism, which is a type of travel that involves exploration and sometimes risk. For the most part, adventure travel may be any activity that includes two of these three components: a physical activity, a cultural exchange and engagement with nature. Adventure tourism has grown by an average of 65% annually since 2009, according to the Adventure Travel Trade Association, and it is estimated to be worth $263 billion. Now, that category has also grown to include more dangerous trips to war zones and areas of political asperity.

If you're interested in participating in this kind of travel, there are plenty of companies that cater to thrill-seekers, offering itineraries and guided tours to some very offbeat and macabre regions. This article in The Atlantic lists many willing to take travelers to high threat areas or offbeat destinations around the world.

The interesting thing about these kinds of trips is not just that they are considered dangerous, there's no doubt about that, but that they uncover what's going on for people interested in the world around them. This is the world we live in, and fear of that keeps us in the dark about what these countries are all about, their culture, their economies, their beliefs and their attractions. I know it's difficult to imagine walking around areas like these, but there is something to learn from the experiences, and those willing to take a risk can come away with much more than they ever expected.

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