A trip into war-torn Afghanistan would probably not be top of the agenda for most travellers when it comes to picking a holiday destination.
And for many of us, the idea of venturing into Iraq, where bomb attacks make regular headlines, or Yemen where foreign kidnappings seem an all-too common occurance — would be considered an entirely reckless scheme.
But one man is encouraging travellers to look past the headlines, and to see beyond the negative perceptions associated with a conflict zone, with a range of tours that takes people into destinations considered ‘off-limits’ to most travellers.
Offbeat Tours is the brainchild of David Butler, a British helicopter pilot whose 40-year flying career — including 12 years spent in the British Army Air Corps — has taken him to the remote and far-flung corners of the globe.
After leaving the army, Butler began flying helicopters for the oil and gas industry, arriving in Dubai 15 years ago to work as a pilot for Aerogulf Services. Since then his travels have taken him across the region, into Iran, Yemen, Iraq, Egypt, the GCC and Levant; South and South East Asia and central Asian countries including Afghanistan and Kazakhstan.
Butler decided to launch tours to Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan (with more hair-raising destinations in the pipeline) after he experienced these destinations for himself and was so inspired by what he discovered that he wanted to introduce other travellers to them too.
“I realised what amazing destinations they are, but I found that there were very, very few other visitors besides me,” he explains. “Here was an opportunity to share my passion for these places, their people and their history with a larger audience.”
He’s keen to assert that he Offbeatours is not selling “holidays” but rather “experiences”.
“My destinations are definitely not associated with places that you would go to on holiday by most people. But I am not selling holidays. I am selling experiences.
“All of these places have very special reasons to visit them. They are all scenically splendid. Each has a very distinctive culture and all have had a role to play in the history of our recent past. They are also places where tomorrow’s history is being made today.”
But what about the practical and safety risks associated with entering into a conflict zone?
Butler explains that safety and security of travellers is paramount to Offbeatours, and thanks to his vast experience of travelling around the region he has used his knowledge to put together itineraries that steer clear of risky areas.
Butler has cultivated strong contacts with local people, organisations and administrative bodies on the ground in every destination that he knows and trusts — including expert tour guides, professional drivers and agents who work in collaboration with tourist police and logistics bodies to keep travellers away from any risk or danger and assist groups from the moment they land at the airport until they get home.
The tour into Afghanistan avoids two-thirds of the country which Butler agrees to be dangerous at present to venture into; and the security situation is monitored daily.
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