Extreme Tourism: The Sport of Visiting the World’s Trouble Spots

Volcanoes: Fascinating But Deadly Credit: NASA

Volcanoes: Fascinating But Deadly Credit: NASA

By David Porter,

Some tourists get caught up by chance as hapless victims in troubles, strife, disasters. Other thrill junkies seek out danger as global rubberneckers.

The stabbing to death and subsequent beheading of a British woman in Tenerife in May 2011 prompted both outrage and questions about the safety and wisdom of people travelling in countries other than their own. In this case, she had become resident there; Tenerife was not regarded as a trouble hotspot.

Other parts of the world are known for risks to travellers from people as well as natural calamities. Yet still, man being an adventurous and generally inquisitive animal, tends to want to see, smell and taste for him/herself. The intrepid traveller is still around, long after every corner of the earth has been discovered.

John Harlow, writing in Britain’s Sunday Times, 24 April 2011, described the Florida police investigation into the murder of two British student tourists in terms of the growth of ‘ghetto tourism’ and said that people want to experience firsthand the reality behind rap music and TV crime shows like The Wire (Baltimore).

War and Civil Unrest

One of Many Ships Hijacked By Pirates Credit: US Navy

One of Many Ships Hijacked By Pirates Credit: US Navy

On 5th March 2011, just two months after the ‘lotus revolution’ that saw Egypt pass through a crisis of unrest, Cassandra Jardine wrote in the UK’s Daily Telegraph: ‘Egyptians are desperate for the return of the foreigner on whom their economy depends’. She went with her family, never intending to be ‘the tourist equivalent of ambulance chasers’, but found they had hotel, pool and historic sites virtually to themselves.

Before the revolution and since, tourists accept the need for their buses to travel in armed convoy to ancient historical sites. However, that’s different from being present during fighting. To see the remains of tanks and other vehicles and some building damage afterwards is one thing. To dodge bullets and missiles, offers a particular kind of adrenalin rush.

Pilot Guides published Destinations, about what is now known as Ground Zero, site of the former World Trade Center before its destruction by hijacked aircraft in 2001. The memorial/construction site ‘attracts twice as many visitors as before the terrorist attack’, from 1.8 to 3.6 million a year.

They named such interest as ‘dark tourism’, and suggested other locations included the Nazi-extermination camp of Auschwitz; Cambodia’s ‘killing fields’ and Hiroshima in Japan, site of the atomic bomb of 1945. The museum on the 6th floor of the former Dallas Book Repository where Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy, Ford’s Theater where President Lincoln was assassinated and Memphis’s Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was murdered, are firmly on tourist trails.

Natural Disasters

Earthquake Damage Not So Appealing to Tourists Credit: UN Development Programme

Earthquake Damage Not So Appealing to Tourists Credit: UN Development Programme

Tornado and storm chasers are a breed of thrill-seeker made famous in the Spielberg produced movie, Twister (1996) about tornado chasers. People who climb active volcanoes care little about risking their lives. They have fallen in love with them and the danger. It’s not scientific observation, nor artistic inspiration; it’s thrill-seeking.

Martin Rietze is an award-winning photographer, one of about 200 volcano-chasers world-wide. His pictures are dramatic; so are his risks. Katia and Maurice Kraft were a French couple who
spent their lives filming eruptions, before their luck ran out in 1991 when they were killed instantly along with 20 others as Mt Uzen in Japan erupted.

The damage of hurricanes, droughts, snowstorms, tsunamis, earthquakes, lightning strikes, flood, earthquake, famine and forest fires draw fewer gazers. The stench of stagnant water perhaps with bodies within, the danger of disease and difficulties of moving about, the lack of oxygen and clean water, engineer against it. But just as people happening upon a motorway pile-up slow to film it, survivors of major cataclysm often make a virtue of their souvenir footage and first-hand experience.


On 13th May 2011, Britain’s Eastern Daily Press carried an account by Jim Wilson, former Anglia Television journalist and chairman of Norfolk Police Authority, of enjoying a cruise between Dubai and Egypt when ‘extra security’ came aboard to reinforce the pirate- deterrent razor wire and sound cannons: ex-military personnel packing ‘some serious weapons’.

For contemporary pirates, it’s a lucrative business. Wilson reported in 2011 the Thai-owned Thor Nexus and 27 crew hijacked off Oman was ransomed for £3m; in 2010, a South Korean vessel was released after paying £5.75m. The International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre acknowledged in 2011 a surge of piracy off Somalia of goods and passenger shipping, with them holding 600 crew and 28 ships for bounty.

Other Attractions and Risks

In the main, these victims aren’t danger-tourists, but people earning a living. Extreme danger pursuits are entirely different. Cape Cod SEO published a list of the five most dangerous vacation destinations. They pointed out that, for example, Americans should avoid Iraq and North Korea, some religions should give certain states a miss, but ‘a vacation is not a vacation unless you have had Fear Factor moments’.

They warned against Columbia (2300 tourists kidnapped a year; 2 bank robberies, 8 highway robberies, 87 murders and 204 assaults/muggings a day, but the surfing’s good); Sudan (hotbed of exotic diseases like ebola, malaria, guinea worms; 3 hospitals serving six million people), Taiwan (over 70% susceptible to earthquake, flood, landslide, typhoon and windstorm) and New Zealand and Australia.

Australia is included as home to ten of the world’s deadliest snakes, lethal spiders and sea creatures; New Zealand is the mother of extreme sports in its raw, natural, untamed geography. Additionally Mexico, South Africa, Russia and dozens of other states see murder against visitors. Equally, though, danger can be found in even the most tame landscapes, cities, roads and buildings. It’s all a matter of personal taste.


  • Cape Cod SEO. Web 17 May 2011.
  • Pilot Guides. Ground Zero. Web 17 May 2011.
  • Geol105 Natural Hazards. Web 17 May 2011.
  • Eastern Daily Press

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