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Last Updated: Friday, 8 October, 2004, 07:52 GMT 08:52 UK
Going anywhere nice this year?
Visitors to Norway will be invited to liven-up their holiday with a spot of seal hunting. Conservationists are appalled, but it's not the first time the tourist industry has been accused of bad taste.

The antics of British holiday makers are called into question almost as often as a plane load of hormonal teens touches down on some hapless Mediterranean isle.

Seal cub
Hunting holidays with a difference
But as the last stragglers on Europe's sun-kissed beaches travel home for the winter, a new source of moral outrage has emerged to take its place.

Come January, Norway will allow tourists to take part in its annual seal cull as part of their break. It's not going down well with animal lovers, who claim the idea is "sadistic".

It's one of several examples, listed below, of thrill-seeking vacationers stretching the limits of just what is acceptable.

SEAL HUNTING

For about 110 amateur hunters will be offered a day out and one seal. Those wanting a longer break, or more animals, can pay 650 for four days hunting and two seals.

The idea is not to step up seal hunting, or render the species extinct
Fisheries minister Svein Ludvigsen

It's all part of an attempt to meet the government quota of killing 2,100 animals a year. Norway considers seals a pest, but local hunters have not been able to meet the target.

Shrugging off criticism of the decision fisheries minister Svein Ludvigsen said the idea was "not to step up seal hunting, or render the species extinct. All we're doing is allowing foreigners to take part".

The visitors will be allowed to shoot the seals and will have to adhere to strict guidelines, says the government. But environmental group Greenpeace has warned Norway it may appear "barbaric" and drive other tourists away.

WAR ZONES

Greg is planning a trip to Sudan. He hopes to be able to take in Darfur, the war-torn region where up to 50,000 have been killed and thousands more face starvation in refugee camps.

Refugees in Darfur
Thousands have died in Darfur in recent months

"Anyone been in the past month or two?" he asks visitors to the chatroom of comebackalive.com, a source of help for those travellers who find Lonely Planet and the likes a bit pedestrian.

Fortunately for Greg someone is able to suggest "bumming a ride" with one of the charities in Darfur. But he should bear in mind that aid workers can be reluctant to take unknown guests as they try to "keep relations with the various governments and militias on a good footing".

Travel journalist Simon Calder is aghast. "Simply by turning up in Darfur you can't be helping the aid workers," he says. But while he suggests the "voyeurism" of some visitors to recent war zones is in poor taste, those who go with a genuine desire to see an area really can help.

"I'm very impressed by people who go to places that were once off limits, like Central America," he says. "That strikes me as model tourism, because you're really helping people and there's no significant danger."

It may not be everyone's idea of a nice break, but tourists have already been enjoying unspoilt Afghanistan. Phil Haines of Live Travel returned with a group two weeks ago and says there was an "excellent reaction from local people, especially in the villages". Others are cautiously eyeing Iraq as the next destination. One group's tentative trip there last October was spoilt only by an embassy bombing and seeing a mob beat a man to death.

POSTCARDS FROM CHERNOBYL

Use of a Geiger counter and breathing apparatus is included in the $150 (83) price of a fully guided tour of Chernobyl, scene of the world's worst nuclear disaster in 1986.

Chernobyl
Checking radiation in Chernobyl

After passing through the two army controlled exclusion zones, the sightseeing trip takes in surrounding villages and the reactor itself - from a cautious 100 metres.

A historical curiosity, the trip organisers note that the status of the 180 tonnes of radioactive material is "unclear".

Lunch (driven in from Kiev) is included in the price and guests can pass the time seeing how those people who have returned to the area get by, and by checking the radiation levels of the friendly local dogs who wander past. It's a "fairly miserable" part of the world, warns Simon Calder, but there's no reason why you shouldn't visit. "People are interested in recent events," he says. There's more to holidays than beaches and books.

HOMELESS HOLIDAYS

For those seeking a really thrifty break, one option is to spend the cash on a three-day "street retreat", accommodation most definitely not included.

Man sleeping rough
Homeless holidays have been branded bad taste

This summer the first such break took place in London, the "holidaymakers" sleeping rough on the streets of the capital to see what it means to be homeless - and to grow spiritually in the process.

Packing for the retreats, organised by the Peacemaker Circle International Community, is easy. Participants are told not to wash or shave for five days beforehand and not to bring a change of clothes. All they need is a sense of adventure, a willingness to beg and the ability to deal with "scary stuff".

RUSSIAN BOOT CAMP

A middle-of-the-night assault by Chechen war veterans dressed as bandits is one of the highlights of a boot camp being run for wealthy Russians.

After being held hostage and abused for a few hours, holidaymakers are soon returned to enjoy assault courses, army rations of porridge, bread and water and driving tanks.

The 10-day course, which costs several hundred pounds, is so popular that organisers are hoping to attract foreign guests, according to the Sunday Times.

"I was fed up with going to Turkey and lazing around on the beach," one guest told the paper.


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