Arijan Kurbasic, the manager of the War Hostel Sarajevo in the Bosnian capital, knows that his idea of hospitality is not to everyone’s taste and is ready to relax the house rules a bit.
He will, for example, turn down the volume on a sound system that, day and night, fills the place with the din of gunfire and explosions.
Getting to sleep can still be a challenge: There are no beds, only thin mattresses on the floor with no pillows or sheets, and heavy, scratchy blankets.
And while other hotels offer luxury suites and sweeping views of Sarajevo’s old town, Kurbasic offers the ultimate in self-deprivation — “the bunker,” a windowless dungeon so hellishly and deliberately uncomfortable that, he said, “it is insane to want to sleep there”.
A former Sarajevo tour guide, Kurbasic, 27, said he had quickly realised that what many tourists really wanted to know about was the glorious city’s agonies during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.
“I decided to give people what they wanted,” he said.
The hospitality industry’s term for what he offers is “dark tourism,” a niche but growing global market focused on places where terrible things happened.
These include Dealey Plaza in Dallas, where President John F Kennedy was assassinated and Nazi death camps like Auschwitz.
Sarajevo has an abundance of such places, including the spot where a Serb nationalist assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in 1914, and set Europe on the road to WW I, and a market where a mortar shell killed nearly 70 people in 1994.
Kurbasic said his aim was not to create nostalgia for Europe’s worst bout of bloodletting since World War II but simply to let guests get a small idea of the discomfort and deprivations of wartime.
“Millennials come and say, ‘This is so cool,’” he said. “But it is not cool. It is not a game.
If you grow up thinking war is a game, you will make some very bad decisions.”
Most of his visitors are from Europe, Australia and the US, many of them too young to remember gruesome images of Sarajevo’s misery during a 1,425-day siege by Serbian forces.
“Locals are not interested,” said Kurbasic, who was a child during the war.