On “danger” tourism

What do you think?

Burma, China, North Korea – should travelers visit oppressive countries with bad human rights records?  I read this article this morning while I was waiting at the dentist’s office.

In her April 2008 article, “See Mo’ Evil,” Outside senior editor Stephanie Pearson rebuts Nobel Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s call for tourists to stop visiting Myanmar. What does Pearson think is the best way to respond to a travel boycott in a human-rights-violating country ruled by an oppressive regime? Go there and check it out.

Every country in the world, including the US, is guilty of human rights abuses to one extent or another, so if I wanted to be totally consistent, then I wouldn’t travel anywhere. With all the photos, video and reports of human rights abuses in Burma, I don’t think it is necessary to go and visit to “see for myself.” I find the whole idea of “disaster tourism” a little bit distasteful. I guess it is ultimately an individual choice. Personally, I would respect the wishes of Aung San Suu Kyi and avoid traveling to Burma until there is real substantive change.

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Foossa Facts

  • Having started tours to Vietnam in the early 90s, I often heard similar arguments (the enemy, the embargo, Communists). However, visitors brought change and great comfort the Vietnamese. On our trips in Myanmar, I see the same effect – locals enthused to see visitors, a sign of hope not isolation like North Korea. With all respect to the intent of the boycott, I think it is visitors (and witnesses) that bring about this change – not isolation, which we see the result of with Iraq and North Korea. I always ask our travlers to Myanmar, did anyone aks them why they came or tell them they should have stayed away? Quite the opposite – please send your friends.

  • I guess I am still wrestling with this issue in my own mind. In the case of Burma, I find it hard to go against the wishes of the peaceful opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. I HAVE been to China though and I didn’t have such a moral issue about that. It might be different if the Dalai Lama were to ask people to boycott travel to China tomorrow.

    I totally understand your point about visitors bringing change though. When I was a student in Spain, we learned about how tourism was a key factor in connecting the country to the outside world during the repressive Franco dictatorship.

  • The link between casual outside awareness and regime change, especially in regards to a place that has turned its back on the world diplomatically, is tenuous at best. Even if returning tourists have the time and motivation to pressurize their home governments to address the situation, it’s doubtful there will be much interest beyond the delivery of some empty rhetorical flimflam and the proposal of an impossibly Quixotic solution. If not, might something already have been done? The sort of grassroots action that emerges from “concerned bystander” tourism might be effective in smaller-scale situations, but it’s in over its head here. Regime change, for better or worse, is the domain of international diplomacy. Or, as we’ve sadly seen, the unilateral initiative of a hegemonic world power.

  • I’m here to urgently report on mass fashion-rights abuses here in Cake City. The hegemonic majority continues to assault the stylish minority with vulgar displays of Ugg boots, cell phone holsters, and short-sleeved shirts worn with ties.

    As leader of th’ Cake City sartorial opposition forces, I implore all would-be visitors to boycott the Cake City tourism industry until these abuses are put to a stop!

    Please also write your congressman.