One of the most hazardous places in the world is quickly becoming one of the hottest tourist spots on the map.
Ukraine’s Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant— ground zero of the most catastrophic nuclear accident in history— is seeing a surge in popularity with travelers. And it has HBO’s (T) critically acclaimed “Chernobyl” miniseries on the April, 1986 disaster to thank.
“This series has definitely brought more attention to Chernobyl,” Sergii Ivanchuk, the founder of SoloEast Travel, told Yahoo Finance’s YFi PM.
SoloEast specializes in tours to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a 1,000 square mile area around the nuclear plant where access and habitation is still severely restricted due to radiation.
Ivanchuk estimates that in the wake of the HBO miniseries, SoloEast has seen a 40 to 50 percent jump in Chernobyl tour bookings. That compares to approximately annual growth of about 20 to 30 percent for the grim excursions since his company started them 19 years ago.
The exclusion zone is regarded as low-risk for brief, tightly supervised visits. “When we’re safe, we mean it,” Ivanchuk adds.
Instagrammers stir controversy
The haunting area around the defunct nuclear plant — and the abandoned nearby city of Pripyat — is also turning into a macabre hotspot for inappropriate selfies and other provocative pictures on picture-sharing site Instagram (FB).
Ivanchuk made clear that solemn recognition is an integral part of SoloEast’s tours.
“We try to encourage people to respect the place. It’s still tragedy. Thousands of people were relocated. Approximately 6,000 people died from Chernobyl in the following 10 years” after the disaster, he told Yahoo Finance.
“So respect is what we always emphasize to our tourists who come to visit,” he added.
With interest around Chernobyl and its infamous role in history soaring, Ivanchuck does not expect tour demand to fade any time soon. “Chernobyl is [now] the number one destination in Ukraine,” he says. Apocalyptic selfies and all.