Felicity Long
Felicity Long

The link between film locations and tourism gets a lot of ink, including in this column, but here's one you probably didn't see coming.

We're not talking about the impact Disney's "Frozen" had on Norway, "Mary Poppins Returns" and "Downton Abbey" on the U.K. or the gift that keeps on giving: "The Game of Thrones" on locations all over Europe, most notably Croatia and Northern Ireland.

This latest entry into the trend is Intrepid Travel's new itinerary to Chernobyl, inspired by HBO's surprise hit miniseries of the same name and referencing ground zero of the most catastrophic nuclear accident in history.

Obviously, this isn't a tour for everyone, but according to Steph Millington, Intrepid Travel's Europe product manager, the destination is among the so-called "dark tourism" sites that are garnering attention in recent years, including the Killing Fields in Cambodia and Auschwitz in Poland, just to name a few.

While there are no readily available booking numbers on how much a trend dark tourism actually represents in the industry overall, the correlation between the Chernobyl miniseries and interest from Intrepid clients is very clear.

After the May premiere of the show, Intrepid saw global sales of its Moldova, Ukraine & Romania Explorer trip, which includes visits to the Chernobyl disaster site in Ukraine, spike 131% that month.

As a result of this growing interest in visiting Chernobyl, Intrepid Travel is launching a Ukraine Highlights tour that offers travelers an in-depth look at the site.

"Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is a unique experience where you can witness a well-known historical site frozen in time," Millington said.

"It's essentially a Soviet time capsule, nearly untouched more than 30 years later, and a rare opportunity to see a completely deserted destination," she said, noting that the abandoned town of Pripyat is particularly haunting.

As to who goes there, Millington said history buffs are the obvious choice but so are "travelers intrigued by full immersion trips [who] want firsthand experiences that get them up close and personal for deeper learning."

She suggested that travelers prepare for the trip by educating themselves on what happened  watching the miniseries is a painless way to accomplish that  and how people who lived through the disaster were affected.

Understanding the real-life implications of the tragedy will not only help put the experience in context, she said, but it will also encourage travelers to act appropriately and respectfully.

It's important to avoid picking up anything as a souvenir, for example, and to only venture into and take photos of areas where that is permitted, Millington said.

Travelers who are tempted but nervous about safety can rest assured that the Intrepid tours are escorted through the site by licensed local guides, who provide a detailed safety briefing at the start of the day tour reinforcing the guidelines and laws to abide by to stay safe when traveling through this area.

"Given the short amount of time visitors spend in the area, radiation levels shouldn't be harmful or unsafe," Millington said, adding that long-sleeved tops, long pants and closed shoes are recommended.

"The trip allows travelers to visit the ghost town of Pripyat  where Chernobyl workers were evacuated 36 hours after the disaster  and the village of Paryshiv to meet the self-settlers, people who chose to come back to their homes after the evacuation," she said.

"Travelers tell us they come away with a much deeper understanding of the complicated legacy of the disaster."


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