Dark tourism - will travel insurance cover it?

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17 October 2018 Travel experiences
by Anne Wentworth

Dark Tourist, hosted by Kiwi journalist David Farrier, has created quite a stir following its recent release on Netflix.

The series follows Farrier as he visits strange and morbid locations filled with macabre mementos, memories and events. Sad, sometimes horrific, and often awkward elements of history and culture are the drawcard. As cool as the series is, it makes you wonder how things would go if you decided to include dark tourism on your next holiday.

On Farrier’s journeys he visits dangerous locations and individuals, such as meeting Pablo Escobar’s quirky and deadly hitman to a tour about Jeffrey Dahmer. It’s a bizarre series that may end up igniting the desire to experience dark tourism yourself!

This series is an obvious sign that dark tourism is growing in popularity and recognition. The destinations featured attract the curious, and some of us would probably visit one or two of them on our own time. However some of them are obviously dangerous. So where do we stand when it comes to travel insurance cover?

   

Travel insurance for dark tourism destinations.

There are different risks you should be aware of before booking your dark tourist experience. We’ll go through some of the destinations, their risks, and in which situations you may be covered by travel insurance.

Bathing in radiation at Chernobyl & Fukushima – not covered!

Hopefully this is not a surprise to you, but spending any time in an area with high levels of radiation is dangerous. Whilst the effects are not always immediate, exposure to radiation can cause serious illnesses including cancer and cardiovascular disease. If you were to be exposed to a very high level of radiation within a short time, you would likely be vomiting within hours, and could die within a few days or weeks. You should also know that children and unborn babies are a lot more susceptible to radiation than adults, so this is definitely not an activity for the family.

Radiation poisoning and sickness is not covered by travel insurance, so we recommend you leave these destinations off your itinerary.

Abandoned orphanage or dormitory in Chernobyl.
Abandoned site from nuclear radiation in Chernobyl, Ukraine.

   

Violence from locals – depends on the circumstances!

One example in David Farrier’s series was a visit with Pablo Escobar’s former hitman. While someone like him has done his time, that doesn’t mean safety shouldn’t be considered. We won’t sell you a policy to a country where we know we can’t get you help, places renowned for violence and drug trafficking such as Pablo’s home of Columbia, and places where crime and kidnapping of westerners is commonplace such as Ecuador and Nicaragua.

A view of Medellín in Colombia.
Medellín in Colombia, which was home to the cartel led by Pablo Escobar.

    

For other destinations, while we will try to cover your claim, but it’s your responsibility to be aware of the dangers posed by visiting dangerous places or individuals – and to avoid them if possible. The rule of thumb is that you must take reasonable steps to avoid foreseeable events. It doesn’t seem like a smart or a reasonable risk to meet with a contract killer when you’re on holiday!

Active war zones – not covered.

While not directly dark tourism, there are ties making this an important one to address. Yeah, we know war tourism and danger tourism sound ridiculous, but some travellers enjoy the idea of travelling to countries in the middle of war.

If you’re one of these travellers, know that you won’t have insurance coverage for multiple reasons. These areas are in current strife and anyone has the potential of being caught in the middle. These countries are also considered a high or extreme risk with ‘Do not travel’ and ‘Avoid all non-essential travel’ meaning the New Zealand government themselves are stating you’re putting yourself in obvious danger. It’s like swimming with a Great White to get close-up photos – even though it’s reported this one bites. We can’t control your travels but count us out of this one.

Aleppo in Syria is an active war zone, not covered by travel insurance.
Some people find visiting an active war zone like Aleppo in Syria a thrill, but you should know that if you visit an active war zone, you will not be covered by travel insurance.

    

Illegal activities and simulated smuggling – not covered!

Other examples in the TV show include breaking the law, or pretending to. Pretending to smuggle people across the border might sound exciting, but the reality is that it’s a deadly business run by criminals. Breaking into an abandoned town that the government has declared “no go” due to radiation, is both illegal and crazy. If you’re breaking the local law, you’re absolutely not covered by any insurance policy, that’s for sure!

     

Safer dark tourism.

Not all “dark” tourist destinations are as troublesome as Chernobyl or Medellin, Columbia. Many historical sites around the world offer the opportunity to reflect on past events, both recent and distant. Places like the Torture Museum in Amsterdam offer eye opening glimpses into the dark recesses of mankind history, and Toul Sleng and the Killing Fields are sobering reminders that the darkness of our past isn’t so distant after all.

The memorial at Choeung Ek in Cambodia.
The Killing Fields in Cambodia are another dark episode from relatively recent history of 1975 – 1979, that should not be forgotten. The Cambodian government encourages tourists to visit what’s now a mermorial to understand the history of their country.

     

Alternative dark tourism destinations and experiences.

We’ve highlighted here some of the dangers of dark tourism. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t alternatives. If you truly crave a more thrilling experience off the beaten track or you’re drawn to the darker side of humanity, there are plenty of options to explore without putting yourself in harm’s way. Maybe the area of Chernobyl isn’t a great idea but the Catacombs of Paris have no ongoing issues, and are a great story to share with you friends. Here are a list of safer dark tourism sites:

There is cover under our travel insurance policies for Poland if you visit Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
Auschwitz provides sobering evidence of the holocaust. An extremely dark place to visit, is it also an essential piece of history and has therefore become a detsination for many tourists.

   

The above are just a small example of ‘dark’ destinations that are safe for tourists to visit and experience now. But if you’re booking a holiday and have any questions about activities or destinations you’re planning, don’t be afraid to contact us, we’re happy to help.

A view of the inside of Alcatraz in San Francisco.
Alcatraz is an abandoned federal prison which operated from 1934 until 1963. An extremely popular tourist attraction, you need to book months in advance of your visit.

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