The Burma Campaign UK (TBC) and Tourism Concern (TC) will launch a new arm of their existing campaign opposing tourism to Burma. The campaign groups are calling for a boycott of all Lonely Planet publications (LP) until the company withdraws its Burma guide from the market (new edition Jan 2000). TBC and TC representatives, and members of the Burmese community will mark the launch by dumping hundreds of unwanted LP guides on the company’s doorstep.
A postcard campaign will be launched simultaneously. The postcards depict a paradise beach scene with the word BURMA across it. The M and the A are scratched off by a hand revealing the bloody reality underneath the glossy surface. The text reads: “The cost of a holiday in Burma could be someone’s life”. Thousands of these postcards will be sent to Lonely Planet by supporters of the campaign making the pledge not to buy Lonely Planet guide books until the Burma guide is withdrawn.
A full briefing and copies of the postcard are available from The Burma Campaign UK and Tourism Concern.
Why not holiday in Burma?
There are remarkably few areas in the world where human rights are fully respected. There are also few occasions when the nature of the suppression of human rights is such that the exclusion of tourists from the country is justified. However Burma provides a rare but clear example:
– The development of tourism in Burma is directly linked to well documented mass human rights abuses. There are approximately eight million men, women and children as young as eight years old in forced labour each year in Burma. The United Nation’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports that “the military…treat the civilian population as an unlimited pool of forced labourers and servants at their disposal. The practice of forced labour is to encourage private investment in infrastructure development, public sector works and tourism projects”
– Income generated through tourism helps to sustain one of the most brutal military regimes in the world. On the other hand tourism benefits only a tiny percentage of Burma’s 48 million people; eighty percent live in rural areas and their primary means of income is agriculture.
– Burma’s elected leaders – the only authority with a mandate to speak for the people – have pleaded for all tourists and the tourism industry to avoid Burma whilst it remains a dictatorship.
Why boycott Lonely Planet?
For the reasons outlined above LP’s promotion of tourism to Burma is entirely inappropriate at this time. This view is compounded by the ill-informed account of the ethical debate concerning tourism to Burma contained within the new edition of the guide, and the decision to play down the severity of continuing human rights abuses in the country: For example:
– LP makes the claim that forced labour in Burma “appears to be on the wane” (page 27). A 1998 United States Department of Labor report states that: “the absence of the rule of law in Burma also means international labor standards are not protected…The Burmese people are subjected to forced labor and child labor appears to be increasing. We collected and reviewed a great deal of information from a wide and diverse range of sources but I believe the government’s refusal of access speaks volumes in itself.” The United Nation’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) who have accused Burma of a ‘crime against humanity’ for their widespread and systematic use of forced labour, also have no evidence in their September 1999 report of any such wane in the practice of this abuse. Lonely Planet has a clear responsibility to provide the most current sources to back-up their claims.
– LP refers to Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s pro-democracy leader inaccurately as the former, rather than the current General Secretary of the party that won the 1990 democratic elections, the National League for Democracy (NLD) (page 2).
– LP’s claim that there are divisions between the NLD and the Burmese Government in exile (the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma) over tourism (page 2) is founded on inadequate research. The NLD and the NCGUB are categorically opposed to any form of tourism, including independent travel, to Burma at the current time. There is no difference of opinion on this matter.
All publishers who produce Burma guides have received written requests from TBC and TC to withdraw their guides from the market. The campaign groups hope LP, as the market leader, will provide an example to the others by taking action to withdraw their guide. Through a boycott of all LP publications – with the aim of negating expected income from sales of the company’s Burma guide in the UK – TBC and TC aim to encourage the company to take this action.
Aung San Suu Kyi speaking in January 1999 said: “Guide book writers should listen to their consciences and be honest about their motivations. Profit is clearly their agenda. It’s not good enough to suggest that by visiting Burma tourists will understand more. If tourists really wanted to find out what’s happening in Burma – it’s better if they stay at home and read some of the many human rights reports there are.”
Rough Guides publications recently issued a statement explaining its own decision not to produce a guide to Burma in the current climate. This states, in part: “As long as the military regime remains in power and Aung San Suu Kyi – leader of the democratically elected National League for Democracy – requests that tourists do not visit, Rough Guides will not publish a guide to the country.”
Yvette Mahon, a Director of The Burma Campaign said: “Because of the scale of human rights abuses linked to tourism and the financial benefit to the regime, the high cost of tourism for the vast majority of ordinary Burmese, dramatically outweighs any benefits. The price of a holiday in Burma could literally be someone else’s life. Lonely Planet has clearly stated that “it is essential to respect the wishes of the genuine representatives of the people of Myanmar”. If they stand by that statement then they must withdraw their Burma guide immediately.”
Patricia Barnett, Director of Tourism Concern said: “Whether we like it or not there are often ethical decisions to be made when we think about going travelling. They may not be comfortable but by turning a blind eye we can enable human rights abuses to be perpetuated. Whether we intend to go to Burma or not, we can all play a part in supporting those who campaign for justice in that country, by rejecting Lonely Planet’s promotion of tourism to Burma through boycotting their books.”