News

Trouble spot tourism appealing for some

Suitcase? Passport? Flak jacket?

A room with a view of a battlefield isn't everyone's idea of a relaxing holiday, but for a growing number of travellers, dicing with danger is more appealing than a week spent lounging in the sun.

Lupine Travel, an alternative tour operator specialising in unique destinations such as Chernobyl and North Korea has seen bookings for their Iraq tour triple in recent weeks, with their October departure almost full and another scheduled for April 2015.

Up until earlier this year, tourism was also growing in Iraqi Kurdistan – also known as the "other Iraq" – but since Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised against all but essential travel to the region, operators have pulled out.

"We made the decision to take our Highlights of Kurdistan tour off sale once it was being reported that ISIS were gaining ground in Iraq, and realised the potential for the conflict to escalate," says Simon Grove, head of product at adventure and activity tour company Explore Worldwide.

Although Grove says they still receive occasional inquiries about the tour, these are mainly "from previous travellers keen to find out about the wellbeing of guides and drivers who they met on their tours".

Lupine Travel, however, still plan to go ahead with their trip. Founder Dylan Harris, who is carefully monitoring the situation on the ground, admits they were close to cancelling the tour three weeks ago, but says that since the US airstrikes, it's now safe to visit.

He prefers to use feedback from locals and expats living in the region rather than always taking FCO advice as "gospel".

"In my opinion it does not always give an accurate picture of what is going on the ground and can often be out of date," he says.

But what is it that drives people to visit these areas of conflict where there are irrefutable risks involved?

Matt Baron, 29, Carlisle, who runs travel blog travelgeekuk.com, says he booked the tour because he's keen to visit "a destination not many people have been to", enabling him to "bring back amazing photos and stories"..

He also admits his work colleagues think he's "mad".

Harris adds that there's also an urgency to explore the region before it's too late, and certainly, at a time when travellers are becoming increasingly ambitious, ever searching for regions untapped by tourism, the risks posed form part of the adventure. A cynic might say that they also carry a badge of honour.

Political Tours, a travel company dedicated to current affairs, has seen great interest in their new Israel and Palestine tour, visiting areas where there is currently no FCO advice against travel.

Founder Nicholas Wood, a former Balkans correspondent, stresses the tour does not pose any risk to his customers, who are a mixture of lawyers, academics and entrepreneurs.

"We aim to give people access to as many different political perspectives as possible," he says, "giving them a complex understanding of the situation rather than the black and white picture they might find in newspapers and on TV."

Although the trip was planned long before conflict flared up in Gaza, no-one on the tour has since cancelled.

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