Experiential travel: Now, you can head to war zones for vacations | travel | Hindustan Times
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Experiential travel: Now, you can head to war zones for vacations

Experiential travel goes to a whole new level with an increasing number of people heading to war zones for vacations.

travel Updated: Mar 17, 2015 19:54 IST
Ruchika Kher
Varun-Sheth-with-his-fianc-e-in-Egypt-in-December-2014-L-Egyptians-protesting-in-Giza-on-January-30-2015-R
Varun-Sheth-with-his-fianc-e-in-Egypt-in-December-2014-L-Egyptians-protesting-in-Giza-on-January-30-2015-R

Egypt's beauty will leave you spellbound, its warmth will linger with you forever, its history will engage you, the anguish of its people will revolt you; nonetheless, the misunderstood Egypt deserves an unapologetic chance," says Varun Sheth, who runs an online crowd-funding platform.

After he returned from a trip to Eqypt in December, he was not only relaxed, but also enamoured by the spirit of a country that has been facing conflict for years now.

"We were aware of the turmoil that has savaged Egypt for the past couple of years - The bomb blasts, protests, demonstrations, civil and political unrest and also the ever-emerging threats from ISIS. For us, this made Egypt exciting," says the 27-year-old, who spent a major chunk of his vacation in Sharm el-Sheikh, located in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, which has witnessed a lot of insurgency and terrorist activity as it shares its border with the troubled Gaza strip.

Sheth is not alone. For most people, this might not sound like an ideal vacation, but a growing number of travellers around the world are opting to visit war zones for holidays. While the trend is still at a nascent stage in India, experts say it's only a matter of time before we warm up to the idea.

"Our customer analysis has revealed that experiential travel has taken over traditional tourism. We have seen a growing interest from evolved travellers. Currently, around 10-12%of our queries come for places with war importance," says Shibani Phadkar, SVP & head - leisure travel - outbound, Thomas Cook (India).

Many cities around the world have been at the centre of protests and processions, be they in Kabul, Afghanistan, with its numerous civil conflicts or consistent upheavals in Baghdad, Iraq. However, a new breed of travellers and tour companies are risking it all in search of a different experience. Recently, Russian travel company Megapolis Kurort announced its plans to start vacations to war-torn eastern Ukraine, where tourists will be transported in armoured vehicles with security guards escorting them.

Shift from traditional
Curiosity around the on-ground situation in a particular country or city is the biggest lure. Geoff Hann of Hinterland Travel, who has been conducting tours for foreign nationals in Kashmir (even though things are slowly returning to normalcy, the state has a long history of conflicts), says, "This interest is partly because of media attention. When people learn about the problems on TV, they want to see it for themselves. Tours that take them to problem areas are more interesting because they show reality," he says.

Apart from that, the growing interest of travellers to keep testing their levels and to indulge in adventure has been a major force contributing to the growing popularity of war tourism. Priyanka Jena, co-founder of The Holiday Studio, feels that while it's still a relatively new concept, war tourism is increasingly finding resonance with youngsters. "Traveling to out-of-the-box locations and indulging in adventurous activity has become a trend. People are breaking set rules of travel and picking intriguing destinations," she explains."

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2015/3/travel_war2.jpg

Tourists take pictures of a panaromic view of Jerusalem (L); Protests in Israel on Jnaury 29 (R)

What are the risks?
While war tourism, or dark tourism, as it is often termed, is finding takers around the world, it is not devoid of danger. "When we visited Egypt, the city was marked with heavy security and armed guards manning check points at every km, and was being closely watched by the Egyptian army. To ensure maximum security for their guests, resorts maintained a strict entry and exit protocol," says Sheth.

While opting for such a trip, it is important to take safety measures. "In most areas, we work in a very low profile manner," shares James Willcox of Untamed Borders, a travel company. Also, when travelling to such spots, it is important to keep your passport and tickets with you at all times. Emergency contact numbers and details of your home country's consulate should be kept handy always.

"If possible, one should also share a copy of their travel itinerary with their family and friends back home, and reach out to them on a regular basis," suggests Phadkar.

Not losing sight of the guide is also a wise idea, says Priya Bose of Girls On The Go Club, a women-only travel club. She adds that most importantly, one needs to be very respectful during a war tour and check before taking photos as locals are very sensitive in conflict areas.

Change of vision
While several get outraged by the idea of going to a war-torn city or country, Willcox, who regularly organises trips to Afghanistan, argues that often, locals, who live in the midst of turmoil, feel happy to get visitors. "When we meet people in places like Afghanistan and the guests say they are tourists, most Afghans think we're nuts. But the second reaction is often that of pride. They might be struggling, but people are willing to take the risk and travel halfway around the world to visit such places," he says.