Tourism development in Burma (increasingly referred to as Myanmar) has been explicitly linked with mass human rights abuses perpetrated by the ruling military regime, including displacement and forced labour. Tourism revenues have served to line the pockets of the generals and helped furnish them with a veneer of legitimacy, while providing limited benefit to the majority of Burmese. For these reasons, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her democratically elected party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) – which was blocked from taking leadership by the regime – called for a tourism boycott of Burma in 1996. Tourism Concern recognised the importance of this call to action and campaigned to get tour operators to boycott the country while the NLD remained out of power.
In November 2010, the NLD announced that the full tourism boycott should be lifted. Those wishing to visit Burma in solidarity with the people – either as individuals or in small groups – are now welcomed. However, the NLD stated that a boycott on package tours and other large tourism operations, such as cruise ships, should remain. This is because such tourism is of limited social and economic benefit to most Burmese, while potentially accruing greater revenue for the ruling junta. NLD party leader, U Win Tin, warns that: “To have a very big cruise ship with hundreds of tourists coming in – that’s a lot of money for the regime, and so we don’t like such big business.”
Tourism Concern’s campaign
For many years Tourism Concern campaigned in support of the boycott. By 2008, only a handful of UK tour operators visited Burma and most travel guides stopped producing Burma editions.
In that year we produced a briefing listing hotels and resorts with known links to Burma’s military regime. These hotels were listed under the wider ban on doing business with the military junta established by the European Union.
However, we have now amended our stance in line with the updated NLD position. Tourism Concern urges anyone visiting Burma to recognise that, despite Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest and the elections in 2010, true democratic reform remains a long way off and many government figures and their cronies have stakes in the tourism industry. The NLD would like visitors to come in solidarity. Tourism Concern advises that people travel independently and ensure that they stay in small, locally owned accommodation, making use of available advice on regime-owned establishments, and using only independent guides or tour operators with transparent commitment to local communities.
What you can do
We are not currently campaigning on specific issues in the country but you can find out more about the current situation through the following organisations.
Tourism Transparency is a small, independent non-government organisation campaigning for an open and accountable tourism industry in Burma. In the light of new challenges and opportunities in Burma, its aim is to raise tourists’ political awareness and to motivate them to visit the country responsibly. Its website provides political and tourism information about Burma/Myanmar.
EcoBurma is a non-profit project run by the Czech non-governmental organization Burma Center Prague that seeks to promote responsible travel to Burma.