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This month I want to talk about tourism and peace, but also about historical and current war tourism.

I tried not to talk too much about what is happening in Ukraine since February 24, 2022, as I am not an expert on the subject, but I took the opportunity to inform myself, review some topics and discover new ones, especially about the tourism and tour sector.

I will start by mentioning the main peace organisations that use tourism as a lever for peace.

The main international peace organisations are:

The United Nations is an international organisation founded in 1945. Currently made up of 193 Member States, the UN and its work are guided by the purposes and principles contained in its founding Charter.

The UN has evolved over the years to keep pace with a rapidly changing world.

But one thing has stayed the same: it remains the one place on Earth where all the world’s nations can gather together, discuss common problems, and find shared solutions that benefit all of humanity.

The work of the United Nations covers five main areas:

The International Institute for Peace through Tourism (IIPT) was born in 1986, the International Year of Peace, with a vision of travel and tourism becoming the world’s first global peace industry and the belief that every traveller is potentially an “Ambassador for Peace.”

One of IIPT’s main current initiatives is the Global Peace Parks project with the aim of creating 2,000 Peace Parks by 11 November 2020 to commemorate the centenary of World War I and its theme ‘No More War’.

The organisation supports Travel for Peace. Travel for Peace are trips organised in collaboration with tourism and media professionals with the aim of being ambassadors for Peace. 

In 2015, Cassie De Pecol (Her international) became the first visiting Peace Ambassador with this specific objective. Her expedition took her to visit 195 countries in less than 3 years and set a Guinness record. She made this trip promoting “Peace through Tourism” with the endorsement of the International Institute for Peace through Tourism (IIPT). IIPT also supported Cassie’s world trip by organising meetings with tourism ministers, where possible, and with the mayors of the towns and villages, she plans to visit in each country.

Cassie presented the people she met with a peace statement, took photos and met with children, young people and people of her generation, discussing ‘Peace’ and what it means to them.”

In 2016 Claire McFarland launched Footsteps to Inspire, an ambitious project that saw her run 3000km of beach in 184 countries in support of survivors of sexual violence.

The project was inspired by the beach runs that played such an important role in the healing process of Ms McFarlane, who was raped in Paris in 1999. 

Claire is the second ambassador for IIPT because through Footsteps to Inspire, Claire is creating a safe place for conversation and understanding.   

Chapters are local, statewide groups. These groups serve to exchange information and experiences between places and situations around the world. 

The groups that currently exist are: 

The Organisation for World Peace is a non-profit organisation that promotes peaceful solutions to complex problems around the world.

The OWP was founded in 2015 by Matthew Savoy, who identified a problem in the analysis provided by existing information sources – none were providing peaceful alternatives to solve complex problems, perpetuating a system of violence, conflict and confrontation. The organisation seeks to fill this void with critical analysis and well-considered solutions to reduce conflict and promote justice.

OWP seeks to educate readers about complex issues and the causes of conflict. In doing so, it hopes to expose readers to alternative solutions to complex issues, through which it promotes peace thinking, rather than settling for conflict outcomes.

Peace tourism & War tourism

There are so many questions that come up when I hear about tourism in war zones. I find it quite hard to believe that anyone would want to see with their own eyes what the locals are like, what daily life is like in such a situation. My probably limited view certainly stems from the fact that I have lived in Europe all my life, that I have never experienced proximity to war or living in a place where there is war.

However, not everyone feels the same way I do or is simply lucky enough to do so, so I’m trying to go beyond my comfort zone and explore in this article the topic of tourism during the war, or even tourism in areas of war or instability.

The areas where there is currently war are many, we could even say that there are many wars and yet international tourism has developed.

As Andrea Degli Innocenti tells us in Italia che cambia – the Io Non mi rassegno (italian only) column – ‘There are currently five conflicts in the world that are considered major, meaning conflicts that have generated more than 10,000 deaths this year or last year.

One is the one in Ukraine, the others are mainly concentrated in the Middle East and Africa. 

There is the conflict in Afghanistan, which has flared up again with the abandonment of the country by NATO troops and the reconquest of power by the Taliban.

Equally serious is the conflict in Ethiopia. Ethiopia comes after decades of fighting with neighbouring Eritrea and is currently wracked by internal power struggles and almost two years of the devastating civil war raging in the Tigre region, the northernmost part of the country.

Another war about which we know almost nothing, but which has been going on since 2015 with thousands and thousands of deaths a year, is that in Yemen. Even before the fighting broke out in early 2015, Yemen was one of the poorest countries in the Arab world.

Finally, there is a conflict in Myanmar. Here it all began with the military coup of 1 February 2021, in which Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces, overthrew Burma’s democratic government and seized power.

In addition to these five major conflicts, there are 18 other major conflicts scattered around the world: 14 are in Africa (some of which involve more than one state, such as the Maghreb conflict, which involves ten states), two are in Asia (Iraq and Syria), one is in South America (the FARC in Colombia), the other in North America (the drug war in Mexico). 

And of the 19 other conflicts considered minor, 11 are in Asia and 8 are in Africa.

We are talking about a total of 23 + 19 or 42 conflicts out of a total of 209 states in the world (195 sovereign and independent). 

Clearly, our peace situation is not shared by the rest of the world, and perhaps this is also why the war in Ukraine was seen by Europeans as an almost impossible scenario until it happened. 

Under these conditions, it is understandable how war tourism has been possible to develop over the centuries (more on this in a more in-depth historical study) and how even today this type of tourism is operating not only by visiting places where conflict has taken place but by going to places still afflicted by instability or actual conflict. 

Researchers Foley and Lennon were among the first to introduce the terminology ‘dark tourism’. In 2008, they explored the idea that people are attracted to regions and sites where ‘inhuman acts’ have taken place. They argue that motivation is driven by media coverage and the desire to see for oneself. They believe there is a symbiotic relationship between the attraction and the visitor, whether it is a death camp or the site of a celebrity’s death. Source: Lynch, Paul; Causevic, Senija (2008-10-21). ‘Tourism development and contested communities’.

Also in 2008, former security professional Rick Sweeney formed War Zone Tours and former New York Times journalist and Balkan correspondent Nicholas Wood created the agency Political Tours.

Sweeney and Wood are part of a group of tour guides who take tourists to countries that have experienced or are mired in conflict.

Sweeney says in interviews that the main activity (after checking his potential guests before being confirmed) is to meet someone local, to understand the difficulties and to see the daily life of the civilian population. 

In addition, Sweeney says that many people want to witness their own version of what is portrayed in the evening news.

“Very often people go into a region with a certain kind of opinion and come out with a completely different opinion. And if we’ve done that, I think we’ve been successful,” he says.

Former New York Times correspondent, Nick Wood, created the world’s first tour company dedicated to current affairs after a decade of working as a reporter in the Balkans. Political Tours was inspired by his work as a foreign correspondent and his desire to give people the opportunity to explore the news first-hand.

The UK-based company covers crucial regions in international affairs such as North Korea, the Middle East, the Caucasus and the Balkans.

In 2014, a number of magazines and newspapers touched on the subject by reporting that war tourism was on the rise and tourists were brought to Israel to witness the Syrian civil war. (People are Travelling to War Zones for Tourism, Mary Beth Griggs)

The desire for the experience and the documentation and photography of it through social networks could contribute to an increase in war tourism, according to a journalist in Tel Aviv. (‘Dark tourism’ in strife-torn areas on the rise,CBC News )

 War tourism in Israel is also covered in the 2011 documentary film War Matador by Avner Faingulernt and Macabit Abramson.

In Iran, students, Basij militia members and interested persons are routinely taken to former battle sites of the Iran-Iraq war, as the war is considered by the ruling Iranian regime as a ‘holy defence’ and an ideological pillar for the existence of the ruling Islamic Republic. 

The trips are organised by the Basij, an offshoot of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which enlists travellers normally from mosques, schools or universities. The trips, which are officially called “Tours for travellers of light” (Persian: اردوهای راهیان نور) are cheap and are carried out by bus, in unsafe conditions. Since 2008, buses carrying ‘tourists’ have caused the death of more than 75 travellers in about seven trips.

If there are people for whom the norm is to live in instability, to live in war, I begin to understand why such a particular form of tourism (for others) has developed. 

I wanted to deepen my research and I first found the definition of war tourism on Wikipedia and then the historical excursus. 

War tourism is recreational travel to active or past war zones for the purpose of sightseeing or historical study. The term can be used in a pejorative sense to describe thrill seeking in dangerous and forbidden places. 

The origins of this mode of tourism appear to be in 1600.

Artists and war correspondents like Willem van de Velde are considered to be the first war tourists. Van de Velde took to the sea in 1653 in a small boat to observe a naval battle between the Dutch and the English (The Battle of Scheveningen), making many sketches on the spot.

The Battle of Scheveningen. Butler, R., & Suntikul, W. (Eds.). (2013). Tourism and war. Routledge.

Crimean War (1853 – 1856)

During the Crimean War, tourists led by Mark Twain visited the destroyed city of Sevastopol. 

Prince Menshikov invited the ladies of Sevastopol to watch the battle of Alma from a nearby hill.

It seems that (though the sources are not cited) Frances Isabella Duberly travelled with her husband (Captain Henry Duberly part of the British Light Cavalry) to the Crimea in 1854 and stayed with him throughout his journey, despite the protests of commanders such as Lord Lucan. She was told of the planned attacks in advance, giving her the opportunity to be in a good position to witness them.

Captain and Mrs Duberly photographed in Crimea by Roger Fenton in 1855

American Civil War (1861)

The First Battle of Bull Run, also known as First Manassas (the name used by Confederate forces), was fought on July 21, 1861, in Prince William County, Virginia, near the town of Manassas. It was the first major land battle of the American Civil War. Expecting an easy Union victory, the wealthy elite of nearby Washington, including members of Congress and their families, came to picnic and watch the battle. When the Union army was driven back in a running riot, the roads back to Washington were blocked by panicked civilians trying to escape in their carriages.

Frank Leslie made an engraving of this in his work entitled The Soldier in Our Civil War.

Tourists watching the first battle of Bull Run, The Soldier in our Civil War by Frank Leslie (1893)

The Battle of Gettysburg was also seen by a number of tourists,[Kamlin, Debra (15 July 2014). “The Rise of Dark Tourism”. The Atlantic. Retrieved 12 September 2014.] including General Sir Arthur James Lyon Fremantle. 

General Fremantle (11 November 1835 – 25 September 1901) was a British army officer and a notable British witness to the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. While holding the rank of “captain and lieutenant colonel” he spent three months in North America, travelling through parts of the Confederate States of America and the Union. Contrary to popular belief, Colonel Fremantle was not an official representative of the United Kingdom; instead, he was something of a war tourist.

Photo scanned by Longstreet, James, From Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War in America, J. B. Lippincott and Co., 1896. 

Late 19th century

Thomas Cook began promoting battlefield tours of the Second Boer War (1899 – 1902) before the conflict was over. 

The Second Boer War (Afrikaans: Tweede Vryheidsoorlog, lit. “Second Freedom War”, 11 October 1899 – 31 May 1902), also known as the Boer War, Anglo-Boer War, or South African War, was a conflict fought between the British Empire and the two Boer Republics (the South African Republic and the Orange Free State) for the Empire’s influence in southern Africa from 1899 to 1902.

A variety of other travel agencies advertised the easily accessible and picturesque battlefields of Tugela and Ladysmith. 

Groups of tourists also followed the Franco-Prussian War (1870 – 1871) closely, visiting the battlefields shortly after the fighting ended. 

These were criticised by Alfred Milner, The Observer, and Punch.

One of the earliest travel agents, Henry Gaze, created a tour that included the Waterloo battlefield in 1854. Waterloo was also a destination on an 1886 Polytechnic Touring Association tour, during which schoolchildren and teachers visited the site for educational purposes. According to the 1913 Thomas Cook Travel Guide, Waterloo’s growing popularity as a tourist attraction led to the appearance of numerous charlatans claiming to have participated in the battle; the guide also highlighted the booming trade in relics and souvenirs related to the battle.

The encounter between the defenders and the relief column during the raising of the siege of Ladysmith on 28 February 1900 during the Second Boer War, John Henry Frederick Bacon – Art UK.

The First World War

Despite the criticism, war tourism continued to develop at the same pace as the tourism industry in general. At the beginning of the First World War, it became evident that after the end of the war the related battlefields would attract considerable attention from potential tourists. Although cases of war tourism were documented during the Great War, they remained limited due to opposition from the French authorities.

After the end of the war, previous cases of trophy hunting were replaced by pilgrimage-style visits. British intelligence officer Hugh Pollard described the Ypres Salient as sacred ground because of the large number of Entente graves in the region. 

(Ypres Salient around Ypres in Belgium, was the scene of several battles and an extremely important part of the Western Front during the First World War).

Numerous veterans echoed these thoughts. Anglican and Catholic religious tourism became increasingly linked to war tourism during the inter-war period. In September 1934, 100,000 Catholic ex-servicemen from both sides of the conflict visited Lourdes to pray for peace. Large numbers of Anglican tourists also undertook tours of the battlefields of the Palestine campaign. Greece, Turkey and Italy also became popular war tourism destinations.

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A large number of battlefield guides were produced by a variety of travel agencies, further fuelling the rise of war tours. A 1936 study brought to light the fact that most war tourists during the period were either driven by curiosity or were paying tribute to their deceased relatives.[10] Today, World War I battlefield tourism attracts tens of thousands of tourists to former war zones on the Western Front and the Dardanelles for example.

World War II

After the end of World War II, former battlefields created new war tourism destinations. Saipan, as well as other Pacific battlefields, became a place of pilgrimage for Japanese veterans who resettled and erected monuments to their fallen comrades.


Sara – tourism sector consultant