British groups urge tourism boycott of Burma

Jan 16, 2008 (DVB), The British Trades Union Congress and UK charity Tourism Concern have called on tourists to stay away from Burma and urged tour operators and travel guides to boycott the country.

In a press release issued today, the groups said that tourism in the country is directly linked to human rights violations, and can be seen as a validation of the Burmese military regime.

"We’re urging the travel industry to drop Burma from their list of destinations because of the forced and child labour involved in Burmese tourist attractions and facilities, because of the money and endorsement tourism offers the bloody dictatorship that runs Burma, and because it’s simply immoral to holiday in a country-wide prison camp," TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said in the statement.

The groups highlighted the forced displacement of over a million people from tourist areas and use of forced labour in tourist development projects as examples of abuses directly linked to the industry.

Detained National League for Democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has previously called on tourists not to visit the country, saying that a trip would be "tantamount to condoning the regime", and this position is supported by many Burma campaign groups.

However, advocates for responsible tourism in Burma argue that a boycott further isolates the country from international scrutiny and harms ordinary Burmese people who rely on the industry for their income.

Tour companies and guidebook publishers who cover Burma have said individuals should make an informed choice and say it is possible to opt for privately-owned hotels and tourist facilities to limit the amount of money given to the junta.

Tourism Concern and the TUC dispute these claims, arguing that tourism generates much-needed revenue for the regime while bringing little benefit to ordinary Burmese people.

"Travelling to Burma without contributing to the regime – either economically with your money or ‘morally’ with your very presence – is virtually impossible," Tricia Barnett of Tourism Concern says.

"Visa fees, airport duties, currency exchange and domestic travel are unavoidable outlays for international tourists, and many hotels and businesses are owned by or pay money to the regime," she explains.

"As such, any tour operator or guidebook condoning travel to Burma sends a strong message of validation, as do tourists visiting the country."

Reporting by DVB

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