ow, this is weird. I've received two
phone calls in the past week from reporters asking my opinion about
tourism in Afghanistan.
Apparently, the vice president of the now-defunct Afghanistan
Tourism Organization has been speaking with U.S. reporters in Kabul
about reviving the tourist industry in that country.
Holidays in Afghanistan? Who knows? In the long term, it's
possible that tours of the caves of Tora Bora will be marketed
somewhat like D-Day programs to Normandy are packaged today.
But in the short term, there's that small matter of 10 million
land mines. And lack of a working infrastructure.
I confess I'm being a bit disingenuous to be dismissive of
Afghanistan's prospects. The fact is that I -- and many people I've
met, especially in the travel industry -- enjoy traveling to
remote, little-visited destinations (that are at peace). We like to
explore countries and cultures that are as dissimilar to the U.S.
as a fez is to a 10-gallon Stetson.
Afghanistan has its share of stunning scenery and cultural
attractions (the defacing of the giant Buddhas near Bamian
notwithstanding). The beauty of the mountains of the Hindu Kush
impressed even those invaders who were ultimately defeated, in
part, by its foreboding terrain. The haunting Band-I-Amir region
offers deep blue lakes set amid desert hills. And the trout fishing
is reported to be superb at the Salang Pass, north of Kabul.
Mosques, tombs, monasteries and bazaars are found throughout the
land, and the remains of a fort built by Alexander the Great can be
toured in Begram. There's also the lure of the Khyber Pass, whose
western frontier is in Afghanistan.
Oh, and one more plus for travelers -- Afghanistan has no
departure tax. Of course, I'm not recommending that you encourage
clients to go to Afghanistan. If you do, be sure your fees include
the cost of having a lawyer prepare a disclaimer.
But you should be ready to deal with clients, like me, who like
to go off the beaten path -- it can be quite profitable.
I suspect my profile as a traveler is not unique. When I began
traveling the world in the early 1980s, I had far more time than
money, and traveled for long periods on the cheap.
In those days, the dollar was strong, bucket-shop air tickets
were cheap and my standards were simple -- all I desired was a room
with a clean bed, which could be had for as little as $5 to $10 a
night in countries as varied as Egypt, India and Thailand. Since
time wasn't a big concern, I usually got around via local buses,
trains and ferries. And the only money my travel agent made was on
the airplane ticket that started me on my way.
Today, my time/money equation has reversed. I still like to
travel independently, and I generally have the means to go where I
want, but I'm a time pauper. That's great news for my travel agent.
In my post-backpacker days, I've spent more on a travel
agent-arranged two-week trip to southeastern Africa than I did on a
previous 18-month around-the-world itinerary.
These days every hour of a trip I take needs to be preplanned
and prepaid because I'm on a tight schedule. My current travel
agent works harder for me than past agents did, but is rewarded
I still enjoy visiting exotic locales, but as for Afghanistan,
I'll give it a pass for now. There are other places to go. I hear
Somalia has lovely beaches.