Is it ethical to travel to some of our destinations?
This is a common question we get asked, and of course it’s a tricky one with no one correct answer. Of course you could ask this about travel in general, and there are lots of places you might single out, but we have chosen to address the countries we currently travel to that raise this question the most.
We believe it is ethical to travel to Afghanistan, otherwise we wouldn’t take people there and wouldn’t have been running tours there for all these years. With that being said, it is a difficult question, and we need to remind ourselves why we take people to what many consider to be the most dangerous country on earth.
The most important things to remember are two unequivocal undisputable facts – Afghanistan is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and MOST Afghanis are incredible lovely people. With that being said, is our presence positive or negative?
We believe we are helping locals develop their businesses, as well as showing guests what the real Afghanistan looks like, not just the conflict on the news. It’s not that the conflict doesn’t exist, but just because a country is at war or going through turmoil, doesn’t mean there isn’t still life going on and regular people trying to get on with their regular lives.
It's really an amazing experience being so genuinely welcomed by locals who are so pleased to know they haven't been forgotten. This is a phenomenon which happens in a lot of these types of countries where locals begin to think the world has completely forgotten about them and genuinely doesn't care. This is easily understandable when you realise that their only interaction with foreigners is usually at the end of a gun barrel or receiving a World Food Program delivery. We are always careful to be respectful and show the Afghan people we genuinely care.
The opposing argument is that by travelling to Afghanistan we could possibly be normalising the Taliban and indirectly supporting their regime. No one can calculate and quantify how certain actions impact events, but we’ve always believed that most interactions and exchanges ultimately have a positive effect. Unlike in the mid-90s, during the first incarnation of the Taliban regime, the international community has not completely left Afghanistan and possibly as a repercussion we’ve seen a toning down on the more extreme elements of the Islamic Emirate government. These exchanges aren’t just at high government levels but also at the lowest levels including the continuation of tourism in the country.
The other argument is that Afghans might find it offensive that we are travelling around despite their hardships. This is a very reasonable sounding argument, but not actually something we’ve ever experienced in any of our destinations. We are going to continue travelling regardless, however if we travel to Spain or South Africa, the average Afghani sees no economic benefit, nor do we learn from the mistakes that the global community has made regarding Afghanistan over the last, well, centuries. Nor do Afghanis gain any positive experiences from their interaction with us if we are not there, something which might sound arrogant, but nonetheless a comment anyone who has been to Afghanistan understands. We’ve always believed that so long as safety has been taken into consideration, we shouldn’t tarnish ordinary people with the actions of their governments.
We have always been warmly welcomed by the Afghani people. Most Afghanis have always wanted to be a normal part of the international community and treating the country as off limits and to be avoided isn’t the way we think these amazing hospitable proud people should be treated. However ultimately, the decision is yours, and it’s up to you in the end to make your own call. If you have a differing opinion, the same opinion, would like to discuss it more or join us in Afghanistan to see for yourself, then please do not hesitate to get in contact .
One of the first things people ask when we tell people that we’re travelling to Syria is something along the lines of “is that really appropriate?”, and before we started travelling to Syria it was a genuine concern. They’re ten years into a war, and while most of the country is now relatively safe and is well and truly into the recovery process, it is still very fresh. Millions of Syrians have or are still trying to escape the destruction, devastation and death that’s enveloped their country, and here we are voluntarily entering.
Some see travelling to Syria as “dark tourism”, which is an increasingly popular phenomenon in the world, and simultaneously, increasingly disparaged. It’s featured in several articles recently published in high profile journals and newspapers, and it certainly is something that should be carefully considered. However dark tourism implies an intention to gawk at the horrendous, and just because somewhere is coming out of war, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t more to it.
First and foremost, although still very evident, the crisis has well and truly subsided. Visiting an active war zone is a different question, and not what we’re doing in Syria. When travelling to Syria, it’s not the process of destruction itself that we seek, but rather the rebuilding of the towns, cities and societies, and how people are coping in the aftermath. Syria is at a unique point in its history, and although it might not seem like as pleasant a time as plenty of others, it’s still a valuable part of their story and shouldn’t be ignored. Ignorance of their difficulty doesn’t help anyone.
I think most importantly one should respect the opinion of locals; the people who are there and have lived through it and experienced it themselves, and during our journeys in Syria there hasn’t been a single person we’ve met who wasn’t over the moon and extremely proud that we were there. They’re just really excited to see us – foreigners who’ve come to see what the Syrian people want to show the world, their hospitality, their culture and history and their still beautiful country.
Before the war, Syria was always talked about as one of the most scenic and hospitable countries in the Middle East. Obviously it was a huge hit to their pride to all of a sudden be pariahs, largely excluded from the world community, so in a country that seriously needs a confidence boost and a bit of a hand getting on their own two feet again, welcoming tourists is a huge step in the right direction. They were just starting to make headway, and then suddenly they were closed off from the world again because of COVID. Now more than ever, it’s important to support the Syrian people.
Most people around the world want to help when countries go through these dramatic periods of turmoil, whether it be war, natural disasters or political upheaval. There are plenty of ways that we try to support and assist them, but what is a better form of help than literally going to the country, supporting the re-emerging small businesses, listening to the people and their stories, and just showing appreciation and gratitude for their amazing hospitality.
When travelling through Syria you’ll see shop owners who are physically rebuilding their shops brick by brick with their own hands because they want to get back to work and support their family. I don’t know a better way to help him than to buy something from his shop and a little chat and a smile can also go a long way. And more often than not, these specific individuals won’t be lucky enough to be receiving any of the aid or charity that is sent from overseas. It’s not just about financial or even practical support, but also just a bit of confidence.
They know that the whole world’s pointing fingers at them, and they feel horribly excluded. A student in Damascus recounted to me that before the war foreigners didn’t know much about Syria, except for Palmyra. Now everyone in the world knows Syria, but it’s all about daesh (ISIS), rebels, dictatorship, sanctions, war and destruction. Just the simple fact of going there shows Syrians that we’re not against them all, we don’t think they’re all evil terrorists, and it helps them feel like normal people again, accepted in the world.
The Syrian people are desperate to step back into the 21 st century, to show off their amazing culture, to demonstrate to the world that they can be incredibly hospitable, and to stop being thought of as the country you’ve only seen in the news in reports about daesh. What better way is there to help them do that than to get there and experience the country for yourself.