Looking for a holiday with an edge? You could always try Iraq or Afghanistan. A specialist travel agency organizes trips to crisis-hit regions for adventure lovers.
Iraq is home to many beautiful archaelogical sites
Iraq has a long tourist tradition. Historians see the strip of Mesopotamia between the Euphrates and the Tigris - ancient Babylon - as the cradle of Western civilization. The region is still rich in historical and archaeological sights, but the two Gulf wars all but killed off its tourist trade.
Now tourists are beginning to trickle back in, but they are mainly adventurous individuals. There are no Baghdad package tours. At least, not yet.
HinterlandTravel is an agency that offers trips to Afghanistan and Iraq. Its boss, Geoff Hann, has regularly traveled across the countries near the Hindukush throughout the past 40 years. He describes his average customer as either an older person who visited Iraq or Afghanistan decades ago, or a traveler who wants to tick off the last two countries on his "must-see" list.
Adventure – yes, danger – no
A huge tourism trade fair is currently gathering in Berlin
Karl Born, who teaches tourism management at the University of Applied Sciences in the German town of Wernigerode, believes that many travelers are attracted to the world's trouble zones by the frisson of adventure.
Born tells a story to illustrate how he sees the distinction between an adventure holiday and a dangerous trip. Having booked what was described as an adventure holiday, a disgruntled holiday-maker demanded his money back from the travel agency because his life had not been in danger at any point on the trip. The complaint went all the way to court, where it was thrown out.
"An adventure holiday has to be unusual," concludes Born. "But under no circumstances should anyone's life be at risk."
Gray hair inspires trust
The difficulties facing travelers to the Hindukush can be boiled down to two factors: safety and comfort. There are different rules in countries that were war zones not too long ago, or in the case of Afghanistan, are still actual war zones.
Hann knows these rules, which is why he always reserves the right to cancel parts of the trip for safety reasons. "I say, 'Okay, we're not going any further here, because it's not safe, or, we better go back, or we better fly the next part, or let's do something totally different.' "
Hann is reluctant to answer the question whether he himself has ever been in serious danger. He says it's not always easy to evaluate a given situation, but a little experience goes a long way to recognizing dangers in advance. He also has a unique life insurance policy.
"We always have a few gray-haired travelers with us, which makes clear to the local people that we're not soldiers, or representatives of another organization like the United Nations,” Hann says. “That's why we always get a good reception."
Afghanistan offers many rewards for the adventurous traveller
Once survival is assured, the next issue is comfort. Is there even an infrastructure for tourism in Afghanistan and Iraq?
"In Afghanistan there is really no tourist infrastructure," Hann told Deutsche Welle. "There are very few hotels, so we often sleep on the floor in tea-houses and rest stops."
These discomforts will probably put off most travelers in the foreseeable future, relegating Iraq and Afghanistan to the position of minor players in the worldwide tourism industry for a while yet.
There is also not much hope that the infrastructure will be improved any time soon.
"It's completely out of the question that in the next three to five years normal package tours will be on offer in these two countries," says Born.
Author: Dirk Kaufmann / bk
Editor: Toma Tasovac