War Tourism — a Growing Trend?

a tourist in Syria
a tourist in Syria

Posing with a sign in Syria (Photo: David Holt/Flickr)

Syria, Chechnya, Iraq. Not the places that top most people’s vacation list. But for some war tourists, they’re must-see locations.

On the Syrian-Israeli border, tour groups who have just visited the area’s wineries also got a view of the ongoing Syrian civil war, according to writer Debra Kamin.

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“So much of what we do now, we immediately document it. We put it on social media, we put it on Facebook and we wait for feedback from our friends and family,” Kamin recently told the CBC.


Young Syrian boys with toy guns (Photo: Christiaan Triebert/Flickr)

“In many ways what we want to do when we travel is try to have the best anecdotes and the best photos, and there’s really nothing that can top a picture of a battle of the Syrian civil war.”

The Daily Beast also documented three college students’ questionable decision to cross the border into Syria last year to see the war up close.

While technically not tourists, locals in Israel lined up last month to watch the air assault on Gaza, according to Australia’s News.com.

Related: Israel’s Tourism Takes a Hard Hit During the Middle East Chaos


Israelis and tourists on the beach during a rocket attack on July 15 in Tel Aviv (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

Oddly, Israel does see tourists continue to travel there even during periods of conflict, but not to watch the bombs go off. “You did see people going to Israel to show solidarity,” New York Post Travel and Real Estate editor Daivd Kaufman told Yahoo Travel. “Whether they’re interested in actually seeing combat, probably not. “

Still, where there’s interest, there’s probably a tour company willing to take you to countries in the throes of upheaval.

“We do take people to places in the countries and regions we visit that are powerful places resulting from conflict,” Untamed Borders co-founder James Wilcox told Yahoo Travel.


Atop Mt. Bentel, overlooking Syria (Photo: Dov Harrington/Flickr)

“But they are just part of a tapestry of experiences that our guests get on our trips.”

Wilcox avoids trendy terms to describe the experiences. “War tourists, dark tourism, ghoulish sites, military tours are all terms that we try and avoid because they do not give a true indication of what we do,” he said.

His outfit, which bills itself as an adventure travel company, often arranges custom trips for journalists and researches, as well as tourists. Group tours sign up no more than 12 people, max.

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A tourist tank in Afghanistan (Photo: Todd Huffman/Flickr)

Packages include skiing in Afghanistan, tours of Chechnya, and even Somalia: “As well as offering a unique experience, Somalia presents unique dangers,” notes the outfitter’s website. For some, a whiff of danger is a selling point.

Still, Wilcox said there are “hundreds of lines” he will not cross. “We have a general policy in that if you need to have private security then we should not be there,” Wilcox told Yahoo Travel. “The whole premise of Untamed Borders is to get under the skin of a country and to interact with the people that live there. This is hard to do if you have four guys with automatic weapons sitting in the back of a jeep behind you.”

Plenty of thrill-seekers are game. And tour companies are open for business, with names like Wild Frontiers and War Zone Tours, which offer small group trips to off-beat places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.

Related: Solo + Woman + Iran = Insane? Our Writer Did It

If the travel involves some risk, the business venture seems to be paying off.

The adventure travel category, while clearly not for everyone, has grown by 65 percent since 2009, according to a 2013 study from the Adventure Travel Trade Association, with a potential global market of $263 billion.

While the niche market for war tourism has recently become more commercial through tour groups, war tourism is not new — ogling battles can be traced back to Waterloo, pointed out University of California at Berkeley anthropologist Patrick Naef.

"And now one can even see tourists visiting — on their own or following guided tours– countries in warfare like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria,” Naef told Yahoo Travel.


Tourists at the Iraq Museum (Photo: Scott Peterson/Getty Images)

Naef added that war tourists are motivated by many factors, including “education, voyeurism, adrenaline, going to places where no one goes, political motivations, catharsis, [and] mourning.”

And, probably, Facebook.

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