Why Do Tourists Vacation In War Zones?

Warfare and tourism aren't typically thought to go hand in hand. So why is it that many still visit countries in the midst of conflict?

When a minibus carrying tourists was recently attacked in Afghanistan, the incident prompted headlines and questions. What was a tour bus doing in the middle of a war zone? Who visits Afghanistan on vacation?

As Laura Ling explains in today's Seeker Daily report, tourism in war zones is actually more common than you might think. For some travelers, the appeal of visiting a historical landmark outweighs the risks. For others, the conflict itself is the destination.

Consider the nation of Iraq. Millions of tourists have visited the country in recent years, despite ongoing conflicts and official travel warnings. Tourists are attracted by the country's ancient historical sites, including the ruins of Babylon and the Great Mosque of Samarra (which truly is a wonder to behold.)

It's estimated that more than 800,000 international tourists visited the Iraq in 2013 alone, although tourism numbers have dropped radically since ISIS took over large swaths of territory in 2014.

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The African nation of Nigeria is also a curiously popular tourist destination, with nearly 1.5 million visitors each year according to the World Tourism Organization. This despite the fact that Boko Haram, the jihadist terrorist group, continues to menace the nation. By some measures, Boko Haram is the single most dangerous terrorist group on the world, responsible for more than 10,000 civilian deaths since 2015.

Believe it or not, some tourists even continue to visit the war-torn nation of Syria -- probably the single most dangerous place on the planet right now. While the country is home to six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the tourism draw these days is of a weirder variety sometimes called dark tourism. Adventure seekers and adrenaline junkies gather at Syria's borders with Turkey and Israel to observe battles from afar. One Russian tour company even offers tours of the front lines.

For more on unlikely tourist spots, check out our previous Seeker Daily report on official travel warnings issued by the U.S. State Department.

-- Glenn McDonald

Learn More:

NPR: What Attracts Tourists to Afghanistan?

Daily Beast: War Tourists Flock to Syria's Front Lines

The Atlantic: The Rise of Dark Tourism