A new breed of travellers and tour operators have slowly started growing in numbers since the troubles in the Middle East and only the world’s most unstable regions will do for these adventurers.
Destinations are available just about everywhere in the world that the British Foreign Office and the US State Department have advised against going, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Chechnya and North Korea.
“It’s a fascinating part of the travel industry that’s growing,” says Jonny Bealby, a former travel writer who started Wild Frontiers (wildfrontiers.co.uk), an outfitter that runs trips to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, among other places. “Our clients want to see these places for themselves and not simply rely on what the media says about them.”
Nicholas Wood, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, started a company called Political Tours (politicaltours.com) in 2009, which now organizes trips to places like Libya, Bosnia and North Korea. The approach is to offer the kinds of experiences he’d had as a journalist. “The way we do stuff, it’s almost like creating a documentary,” Wood says. “We bring people into contact with foreign affairs. So we put together clients with journalists and analysts, and take them to see real live situations. Then they can understand the bigger picture.”
The term “war tourism” has become the fashionable name for these types of vacations of which some companies have embraced. War Zone Tours (warzonetours.com) is run by guys with backgrounds in the military and security contracting and caters to the adrenaline junky. Rick Sweeney of War Zone Tours said “We want clients to feel like they’re on the edge of a very dangerous situation.”
He goes on to say “There’s definitely risk and a lot of waivers involved, but it must be very manageable for us. You’re trying to get somebody on that edge, but we know, because of the infrastructure we have in place, that it’s actually not nearly as dangerous as it may seem.”
War Zone Tours will allow up to four people on a trip, though most excursions are limited to just one or two brave souls. The itineraries are specifically designed to a client’s wishes, but as Sweeney says, there are some lines the company won’t cross: “We’re very clear with our clients. You’re not going there to fight. I’m not going to hand you an AK-47. We’re not there to get shot at.”
The challenges of running tours in parts of the world with little or no tourist infrastructure are numerous. Banks are a rarity in many of these places, so transferring money or paying locals becomes a challenge.
Prices for these vacations vary, from roughly $2,300 plus airfare for a 10day holiday in the Bamyan district of Afghanistan to more than $20,000 for higher-risk, tailor-made journeys.