Killing, kidnapping and Kabul may not be quite as catchy as sun, sea and sangria but Afghanistan is a must-see travel destination, according to John Simpson, the BBC’s world affairs editor.
He has urged “everyone” to visit the country in defiance of Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice against “all but essential travel”.
Speaking at an event organised by Airbnb, the journalist, 72, said: “I’d advise everyone to go on holiday in Afghanistan because it’s beautiful and fantastic. When I was filming in Kabul recently, two ragged characters came up to me – to my surprise they were British. One said, ‘I’ve got to thank you so much, my wife and I were at a travel show and you told us to go to Afghanistan as it would be perfectly safe and you were right’.”
This summer eight Britons were among western tourists who survived a Taliban ambush in Herat province in which six people were wounded. They were travelling with an Afghan military escort when insurgents opened fire.
Executives at Airbnb also appear to be urging customers to holiday in the country where more than 450 British servicemen and women have lost their lives since 2002. It published a report yesterday that said: “Discovering new places: ever thought of Afghanistan as a travel destination?” Its website has 60 homes for rent, including seven in Kabul and one in Kandahar. Prices start at 12 a night.
The Foreign Office advises against all travel to Kabul and Kandahar as well as other flashpoints. Its website says: “There is a high threat from terrorism and . . . kidnapping throughout the country. Travel by road, particularly outside the capital, Kabul, is extremely dangerous. Seek professional security advice for all travel and consider using armoured vehicles.” With official advice like this, it’s obvious that safety should be a priority when visiting Afghanistan, with PPE such as a bulletproof vest and military poncho being just two items that should be worn in areas of high conflict.
The number of Britons travelling to risky areas is growing, according to Wild Frontiers, the adventure travel company, whose bookings have doubled since 2013. Its website says visitors will encounter “some of the most hospitable, interesting and proud people you are ever likely to meet”. It offers a two-week Afghan explorer trip, covering Kabul, Herat and the lakes of Band-e-Amir, from 5,495. Secret Compass, set up by two former British army officers, offers a 21-day trek through the Wakhan Corridor from 3,599.
Today Mr Simpson sought to clarify his comments. He said: “I was in fact referring to the Wakhan Corridor in the north-east of Afghanistan, where more than one tour company has successfully taken parties for trekking holidays. Much of the rest of the country is indeed too dangerous to visit, as the FCO guidelines say.”