Insights

Stephen Bailey
Discover nine places that went from war zones to tourism hotspots
Discover nine places that went from war zones to tourism hotspots
Stephen Bailey

It’s a tautology to say that travel has changed because of COVID. Right now, we can’t go to places because everything’s restricted. It’s a very negative tale.

But this made me think about how destinations change. I wonder if anybody’s got Syria or Iraq on their travel bucketlist. Probably not. But just because a country is at war now, it doesn’t mean it will never cater for tourists.

Vietnam, Serbia and Kosovo

Vietnam, for example, is seeing a far different type of foreign visitor from the Americans in army fatigues of the 1970s.

And there are some other wonderful countries that have gone from war zones to tourist hotspots, and now are quite trending destinations.

Serbia was at war only 20 years ago, with NATO bombing the Serbian capital Belgrade. Belgrade still shows scars of that war, but it’s grown to become a really chic city, bursting with the creativity that was banned during the socialist years.

A bit further South is Kosovo — a country that was a war zone until only a few years ago. And now it has a thriving, young cultural scene, with jazz cafes, with graffiti. It has bullet-ridden walls, centuries old architecture, and a contemporary atmosphere all rolled into one.

Punjab, Cambodia and Rwanda

How about the Punjab? Technically it is still at war — a war between India and Pakistan over the splitting of the Punjab. At the border, they have a border-closing ceremony. On each side, people get in the stands and cheer their soldiers, who duel — except they’re not pointing their guns at each other and shooting. Instead, they do a strange highlight, kicking, marching, looking mean and staring down their rivals. There’s song and dance for two hours. And then, as the border closes, the soldiers from Pakistan and India compete to see who can bring down their flag the fastest.

And Cambodia — what a fascinating place! Yet it’s not that long ago when 2 million people were killed there, in a genocide created and perpetuated by the country’s own leaders, the Khmer Rouge. It’s the same thing that happened in Rwanda.

Hiroshima, Lebanon and Colombia

In Hiroshima, the city where the atomic bomb was dropped, there’s a moving memorial site that explains what happened. And as you’re there, you can see just how far the city and the country have come from what was at one point a war zone.

Change, difference, transformation.

Beirut in Lebanon is another place that has gone through being at war, to being safe and trending with opulence, champagne and nightclubs, to then being unsafe again, at war — lurching between lobster restaurants and AK47s.

How about Colombia? It’s a fabulous destination, and it certainly was trending just before the pandemic hit. Yet 10 years ago, the Colombia of that time was not open to visitors.

And as destinations change, so do we. As travellers, we seek something different, something fresh, something new each year that passes. We have new inspiration, new ideas of what we want to do, where we want to go, how we want to feel when we go on a trip.

And that’s what I want to keep alive. We live in an incredibly diverse and large planet. We’re all learning, exploring, discovering, and searching for something new, something that will excite us. No one can travel everywhere and do everything, but we can share and inspire — and this is what I want to keep doing.

By Stephen Bailey. Edited by Beatrice Becker.

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