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TOUR OPERATORS URGED TO BOYCOTT BURMA

Tourism Concern and the TUC are calling for a tourism boycott of Burma and urging tour operators, guidebook publishers and tourists to stay away until democracy is restored.

BurmaThe calls come following the violent crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations by the ruling military junta.

Say Tourism Concern: ourism generates significant revenue which helps sustain the brutal military regime and provides it with much needed foreign currency. Burma tourism industry is directly linked to mass human rights abuses. This has included the displacement of over a million people under eautificationschemes near major tourist attractions and to make way for tourist developments, such as resorts and golf courses. The use of forced labour, including child labour, to develop tourism infrastructure in order to attract foreign investment is also well-documented, often preventing conscripts from harvesting crops in a country where food shortages are commonplace.

A tourism boycott was first called for by the democratically elected government in exile and their leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest in Rangoon. Their position remains unchanged today. The boycott is part of a broader strategy of economic sanctions and diplomatic efforts by the international community to exert pressure on the illegal military regime for democratic reform.

Some tour operators contend that a tourism boycott would be unethical and only serve to alienate the innocent Burmese majority further. It is argued that tourism provides a rare income generating opportunity for those working in the industry, as well as an opportunity for their experiences to be shared with the outside world. A number of tour operators are strong advocates of esponsible tourismand are committed to only using small private businesses without links to the regime.

Tourism Concern argues it is not possible for tour operators to open up tourism in Burma to an exclusively esponsibleclientele, who try to avoid state-run businesses as much as possible, without also encouraging those who have little interest in Burma human rights record and, as such, are not concerned about how and where their money is spent.

Tourism Concern and the TUC believe that the scale of the human rights abuses directly linked to tourism and the vast revenues the industry inevitably generates for the current oppressive regime cannot justify the minimal benefits it provides to the Burmese people, the vast majority of whom live in rural areas, never come into contact with tourists and gain nothing from the tourism industry. Burmese nationals seen interacting with tourists risk interrogation and sustained harassment by the military junta.

Tricia Barnett of Tourism Concern stated: ravelling to Burma without contributing to the regime either economically with your money or orallywith your very presence is virtually impossible. 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. As such, any tour operator or guidebook condoning travel to Burma sends a strong message of validation, as do tourists visiting the country

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: "Trade unions have been at the forefront of campaigns for longer holidays, but Burmese unions have asked us not to take those holidays in Burma. 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."

Tourism Concern has published a list of 15 UK-based tour operators still conducting trips to Burma on its website. Tourism Concern and the TUC are calling on people to take part in a letter-writing campaign urging the operators to stop visiting Burma until democracy is restored.

Tourism Concern is also targeting BBC Worldwide Ltd, the new majority shareholder of the Lonely Planet travel guide series, which includes a guidebook on Burma. In autumn last year, both Tourism Concern and the TUC wrote to John Smith, the Chief Executive of BBC Worldwide, asking him to withdraw the guidebook and sign up to the economic boycott campaign.

BBC Worldwide contends that its Myanmar (Burma) guide provides objective information to travellers deciding whether to visit and how to make informed choices once there. Tourism Concern argues that such a guide will inevitably encourage people to visit the country and is urging BBC Worldwide to take an ethical stand on the issue by withdrawing the latest edition.

Until such a time, Tourism Concern is calling on prospective travellers to use alternative guidebook series which do not promote tourism in Burma by producing books on the country.

Valere Tjolle

 
 

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