Adventure tours are a growing business, but a holiday in Aleppo might be pushing ethical boundaries and taking the trend to extremes
Holidays to Syria have been returning to the catalogues of Russian tour operators.
There were nine million visitors to the country before the civil war broke out in 2011. While the series of conflicts that have plagued the region are far from over, Assad-controlled Syria is courting tourism once more.
Mediterranean resorts such as Latakia were once a popular holiday destination for tourists in Russia and the Middle East. In spite of the decade long war, Syria is keen to woo a-political travellers to revive what was once a lucrative tourism industry.
However, some "tourists" returning to Syria are not interested in bathing on the beach. According to a report by The Times two Moscow based travel agencies are offering Adventure tourism packages to the war torn hinterland.
For around 105000 roubles ($2600) tourists are escorted from neighbouring Lebanon across the border for multi-day trips through areas previously controlled by Isis and could still be described as a war zone.
Security attachments are provided by companies linked to the state's security services.
One operator is offering a Damascus with stops in Aleppo. Over half the old city was damaged during a Russian bombing campaign, with Unesco reporting 60 per cent damage. Land mines are still active in the streets.
Three years on – while Russian and Syrian air forces are still under investigation for war crimes – 'adventure tourists' have arrived to take pictures in the rubble.
The travel agents featured in The Times report had already taken 50 tourists this year.
Miracle Tours which is planning to take 15 tourists on a trip this March said it was responding to a new and growing demand for this type of tourism.
"This is for people who want a different kind of experience," a spokesperson for Miracle said.
Meanwhile the war is still ongoing. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 805 people were killed by the conflict last month, 230 of whom were civilians.
This demand for war tourism is not new, nor is it exclusive to Russian tour operators. UK based tour operator Wild Frontiers offers hiking trips to Afghanistan, and Hinterland Travel operates itineraries to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir.
It could be seen as an extreme form of adventure travel, a growing area of travel and tourism. Once associated with high-risk activities – such as kayaking or bungy jumping – the growing trend is for high-risk or difficult to reach destinations.
The adventure tourism market is currently valued at almost $900 billion worldwide. This is projected to triple by 2026, according to Allied Market Research.
Holidaymakers are no longer content to visit resorts, and are driven to seek adventure locations such as Afghanistan and Syria.
It's a growing trend that could be seen as influencing mainstream travel habits.
Even be seen as cruise liners are beginning to offer "adventure" components, such as the ill-fated tour to the White Island volcano.
However, as elements of adventure tourism are adopted more widely, the perceived risks or even ethical dilemmas surrounding the destinations are not diluted.
One wonders if this growth in high-risk adventure destinations will result in greater tragedies for travellers and funnel tourist dollars into less-than-transparent areas of a war-torn economy.