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Dark Tourism: The Potential of Crisis Tourism in 'Bad Lands'.
Thursday, 6th March 2014
Source : Nele Obermuller ~ Exclusive from ITB 2014
Risk is part of the thrill of adventure traveling and adventure tourism is a fast growing segment of the industry;

Yet there is a line to be drawn between risk and danger, which is why a panel discussion at the ITB Berlin focused on the reality and future of high-risk areas.

The panel referred to these areas as ‘bad lands', which may include regions that lie in ruins, slums and even war zones. The discussion was moderated by Ajit Sing Sikand, who teaches at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz.

Among the speakers was Loveleen Tandan, a casting director and assistant director, known for Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Monsoon Wedding (2001) and Vanity Fair (2004).
4Hoteliers Image Library
Photo: (l to r) Ulrich Bexte, George Kurian, Mohammed M. Kareem, Ajit Sing Sikand, Manfred Schreiber, Loveleen Tandar.

"Films like Slumdog Millionaire are the best travel agents," Tandan said. Since the movie's release in 2008, slum tourism in India has increased by 30%. The steady stream of visitors has given many slum inhabitants a source of income.

Beyond that, Tandan feels it can impact governments too, as these become less likely to ignore economically disadvantaged regions and persons with "so many eyes from around the world watching".

Speaking about Iran was Manfred Schreiber, who organizes trips to the country for Studiosus.

"I have a problem casting Iran as a ‘bad land' alongside Afghanistan or Iraq," Schreiber said. According to him, the negative image that hangs over Iran has been largely constructed by media: "But actually Iran is absolutely safe to travel in."

Tourists in Iran principally seek to discover its culture. The country boasts over 600 Islamic, Jewish and Christian sites, for instance.

"People don't go to Iran to see something dark. They go to see one of the most ancient cultures," Schreiber said.

Afghanistan, on the other hand, can be described as a "bad land", according to George Kurian, a photojournalist and filmmaker. In his experience of Kabul and Afghanistan more generally, tourists are seen as "an inconvenience" rather than welcomed. The lacking infrastructure and threat posed by Taliban render traveling in Afghanistan extremely cumbersome and risky.

Security is not such a concern in North Korea, said Asia specialist Ulrich Bexte. However, he warned that visitors should expect their movements to be carefully monitored. In North Korea, two tour guides always accompany tourist groups. Engaging with locals is difficult, therefore.

Bexte said there were three types of tourists who go to North Korea. Those who want to experience a large communistic system; those who want to see both North and South Korea; and third, recent group, which is interested in North Korean popular culture.

"Judging from the feedback I get, everyone who goes there has a memorable experience. Especially tourists who go to see both South and North Korea generally say that North Korea was much more interesting," Schneider said.

The last speaker on the panel was Mohammed M. Kareem from Iraq. He described his country as "light from within", although he admitted it may be going through a dark phase. 

Kareem feels that Iraq yields a great potential for becoming a popular destination, but that presently fear keeps many travelers away.

"I would like to encourage those interested in the country to contact locals for information and not just read the news," Kareem said. Beyond that, he stressed Iraq needs to expand its infrastructure and learn how to manage tourist businesses.

Without a doubt, there will always be certain regions in the world that contain more risk for travelers than other. Tandan argued that tourists should not feel guilty about going to visit a slum, however.

"Dark tourism is just another expression of the inherent human tendency to be curious about things we are not familiar with," she said. In her view, dark tourism exists all over the world, from favelas in Brazil to Ground Zero in New York.

This is strictly an exclusive feature, reprints of this article in any shape or form without prior written approval from 4Hoteliers.com is not permitted.

Nele Obermuller is an award-winning journalist writing primarily on social affairs and development. Her work has appeared in both English and German press and she works with journalists across the globe as part of the international journalism organization, Associated Reporters Abroad (ARA). Whenever she can, Nele leaves daily routines behind to enjoy the unexpected turns of slow travelling.

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