Most tourists would think twice about going to Myanmar (Burma) these days. Think again. It’s time to go now!
Rest assured that the government will get along just fine without busloads of tourists travelling around the country. Their business dealings with China, Thailand, and India are more than enough to sustain their cash flow. But without foreigners visiting the country, locals who depend upon tourism are facing the prospect of little or no income for the rest of the year. Those most affected include people working in hotels, restaurants, gift shops, and travel agencies, as well as trishaw and horse cart drivers, and freelance vendors. I heard from three friends in Yangon (Rangoon) yesterday, all of whom work at travel agencies. Two are basically throwing in the towel, convinced that the rest of the year is lost. But the other one is determined not to give up, hoping she can convince more tourists that it's now safe to visit.
Some people say that tourists should boycott Myanmar. Don’t visit a country that’s run by an evil junta, they say. But I disagree with that way of thinking. I think we should absolutely flood the country with more tourists. The more eyes and ears the better; the more cameras clicking the better; the more helping hands the better. Yes, a portion of your tourist dollars will go to the government; paying some fees and taxes are unavoidable to a certain extent. But savvy travelers can control where, how much, and how they spend their money, and they can do much to funnel cash directly to needy people, families, orphanages, and monasteries.
Despite the recent crackdown and media coverage, Myanmar remains a very safe country for tourists to visit. Believe it. I’ve talked to two other travelers that were there just last week and they report no problems. The Burmese people absolutely want more tourists to visit. And they need you to visit soon. Isolation and further sanctions will only serve to penalize the poor.
Some people say that tourists should boycott Myanmar.
Aung San Suu Kyi asked us to boycott tourism in support of the NDL(National Democratic League).
She also agrees with more sanctions being imposed on the countries like China, because of what they provide the Junta with.
The least we can do is support her by doing as she asks. In fact, sometimes I have the frustrated feeling, that that is all we can do.
Most/all Bumese civilians also support the NDL, dont they and want us to support them too?
And the thing about tourists going to Burma is that not many take an interest in politics, when they travel, so I dont think their eyes and ears will do much to to reduce Burmas isolation from the world.
Some would say the sanctions are not working. I think they will eventually with a lot of patience and perseverence. Patience is something we tend to lack in our fast moving modern world, but we must have patience and keep pushing and persevering with non violent solutions.
[ Edit: Edited on Oct 9, 2007, at 12:07 AM by Mel. ]
Believe me Buzzard, if I could get there ANY SOONER, I would. It's been high priority on the travel list for a long time, and its just out of reach at the moment.
Hopefully, most travellers wont be put off by the recent developments in Myanmar. Most people who do decide to go there are aware of the general state of affairs in the country, so hopefully this wouldn't be much of a deterrant.
Good post. Thanks for the encouragement.
I went to Myanmar last year - I researched thoroughly on the pros and cons of going, and made the decision to go. after going, I believe this even more strongly and hope to go back some time soon. while I have total respect for Aung San Suu Kyi and her policies I cannot agree that tourists staying away is going to benefit the country. I agree with buzzard - the more eyes and ears the better, and furthermore, as far as I know, there is no evidence historically that tourists boycotting a country forces a regime change. also, as the country is one of the poorest in the world, money from tourism is many peoples
lifeblood - without it many may not be able to feed their families on a day to day basis. I remember, for example, we paid a horse and cart driver to drive us around Bagan for 2 days - its possible that if we had not been there, that man would not have had the money to feed his family that day. I didn't meet one Burmese person who thought that tourists should stay away.
I realise that there are some tourists who travel with government tour groups, stay in government hotels and use government transport etc, with little regard for ethical travel, but with a little careful planning it is possible to ensure that all but a small amount goes to the local people - I'm fairly confident that my visa fee was pretty much the only money that the government got from me. not going to Myanmar is only going to hurt the people even more, not the fat cats in the government.
[ Edit: Edited on Oct 9, 2007, at 10:06 AM by bex76 ]
A couple of points.
Aung San Suu Kyi asked us to boycott tourism in support of the NDL(National Democratic League). The least we can do is support her by doing as she asks. In fact, sometimes I have the frustrated feeling, that that is all we can do.
Some would say the sanctions are not working.
I'm not sure how to feel about sanctions. Certainly it seems that we shouldn't do things that support abusive governments, however sanctions against countries like Cuba or South Africa apparently did little to stem remove the governments there. And the USA has had sanctions against Burma the the Junta since 2003 with little impact.
In fact, Sanctions may have the opposite effect, in slowing down change. In a 2004 speech delivered by Dave Steward on behalf of former South African President FW de Klerk to the Institut Choiseul in Paris, it is stated that, "Economic growth and international cultural influences are often powerful forces for change. It accordingly makes little sense to try to cripple the economies of targeted states or to isolate their citizens from positive cultural influences. To the extent that economic sanctions retarded economic growth and development in South Africa they also served to slow down powerful underlying forces that were in fact already changing the country. The cultural and academic sanctions that were imposed against South Africa also served only to inhibit one of the most powerful forces for change in the country."
The speech concludes that while "sanctions were certainly a factor that the South African government had to consider very carefully when considering its options," that they were ultimately "not by any means the main factor in our decision to embark on fundamental reform and often undermined the real forces for change." "few governments are likely to bow to sanctions that they believe will lead to their destruction," the report says, stating that it is "essential to identify the reasonable interests of targeted governments and to devise approaches to reassure them that such interests will not be jeopardised," i.e. working with the government to elict change, rather than just using sanctions as a "blunt weapon."
I'm certainly against supporting the Junta, but I'm not certain that sanctions are the right route. Certainly any sort of sanctions without China or India on board seem pointless, as the amount of trade other countries have with Burma is so small.
And as was stated in the de Klerk speech, there may be benefit to exposing citizens to "positive cultural influences," which could come with increased international traffic in the country.
Ultimately, I think that any change that happens is going to have to come from within, either because the Junta is ousted from power, or the Junta determine that a change is the best course.
I think the decision to travel to Burma is one that many of us have wrestled with before we did it. Obviously none of us supports such a repressive military junta like that one that has ruled Burma for the past 45 years. But I really think it's important that Burmese people have contact with outsiders (western tourists); ones that can not only help them financially (by buying products, patronizing their businesses, using their services, etc.), but by sharing knowledge and communication.
You most certainly have to be careful what you talk about in certain cases, as well as where you are having this conversation (yes, the eyes of spies are everywhere), but I've been to the country 6 times and I've never encountered anyone that's been fearful of talking to me or hanging out with a westerner. I think that situation may have changed for the time being in Yangon, but until I return to visit I can't say for sure. In any case, you don't want to go around shouting "Free Aung San Suu Kyi" if you're with Burmese friends. You are putting them at risk more than yourself.
Good article in today's Bangkok Post about the "trickle" of tourists returning to Burma. I've personally talked to 5 people this week that were touring the country since the protests started and they all report that things are safe and calm in areas such as Mandalay, Bagan, and Inle Lake. Even friends in Yangon are telliing me that life has returned to normal (well, as "normal" as things get over there) and they would love to have more tourists come and visit.
Please think about supporting the people of Burma by visiting.
It is true that a random boycott, sanction or other form of political activism will have little effect.
However, if we demonstrate in the way that the political activists of a particular repressive regime ask us to, we give weight to their words. It is not merely about depriving the government of money. We have to find a direction to push in and then all push together, then the governments of these countries will feel the disapproval of the world, and not only of their own people. Where the Burma situation is concerned it is more important than ever to push hard. Since there is already so much world attention on it, what we do to protest will get more media attention and thus put more pressure on the government.
I completely agree with you encouraging travel to Burma - but I do think it has to be the right kind of travel (although when I was there I noticed that all the foreigners I met where there with good intentions and knew a lot about the political system). The people traveling to Burma already have a different mind set to those going to Thailand or Indonesia just for a big party.
When I was traveling I did feel a constant conflict inside me as to whether or not I was doing the right thing but I have never learned so much in any of my travels as I did in Burma and I am very glad I went. If I hadn't have gone I would not be interested at all in what has been going on the past month- not because I don't like tot know what is going on in the world but because I have never learned anything about Burma in my life. The Burmese people are so amazingly genuine and experiencing that first hand has made me all the more upset with what has been happening. I do think by traveling to Burma you can gain first- hand knowledge to share with people back home (I know many of my friends are extremely ignorant to what is happening). I also think even though part of the money goes to the government if tourists stop visiting Burma the local people are going to be worse off - so many of them rely of tourism as their only income. I also think Burmese people appreciate tourists coming in because they see it as the only means to spread news about what really is happening in their country. Thats why so many Burmese were willing to risk talking to us everywhere we went being very open about everything that is going on.
I can understand the argument about boycotting Burma but after traveling there myself I would definitely recommend going there and seeing the way these people live for yourself. It is heart-breaking to think such beautiful people are being treated so unfairly.
Come absolutely! The little people are hurting from lack of tourists the junta couldn't care less. So many of these people make their livelyhood from the tourist dollar and they are hurting big time right now.
Sanction only work if the government cares about its people. Believe me, the rulers here do not. I see first hand every day what these people have to go through and what they have to fear in a very real way. It would be more apropriate to boycott the countries that are active or tacit supporters of the regiem here such as China, India and Singapore which provides so many of the generals with unrestricted banking privilages. I know a lot of locals and every one of them would tell you that they want more tourists, westerners in particular.
Sanctions are not the answer, flooding the economy with western products and ideas would do so much more. Tourisim also helps to get the truth out to the rest of the world about what goes on here. Why do you think they shut down the internet for weeks during the unrest and started confiscating cell phones and digital cameras? The more visitors the better chance of the spread of information outside the country and also gives the people here more information about the rest of the world. Word that is not filtered through the governments censors and spin doctors.
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