Reasons to not go to Burma
- Tourists see nothing of what really goes on.
- The amount of people living off tourism in Burma has to be tiny - the number of tourists going there is minimal.
- Aung Kyi/democratic league have specifically asked for a boycott.
- Going to Burma for pleasure (tourists are not political activists) makes it look like a 'normal' country. Nothing wrong with it. This is an image the junta would love to spread.
- Boycotting China and the likes: good idea. 1) realistically speaking: not going to happen, our industries are already too heavily tied up in China - they would lose big money over it - our governments pander to what the industries want 2) Boycotting Burma does not prevent boycotting China. Do both!
I still feel that a tourist boycott of Burma/Myanmar is the wrong thing to do. Some of what Mel says is accurate: the number of tourists that visit the country isn't much, especially when compared to other Southeast Asian countries, and the number of locals that directly benefit from tourism is small when compared to the general population.
But I ask you this: even though your tourist dollars/kyat may not directly benefit thousands of people, is that a good reason not to try and at least help SOME people over there? You'd be surprised how much one person can do to help people. They locals make so little money that a nice tip for services, or buying something they sell can help them --- and their family and relatives --- more than you think. A little money truly goes a long way in that country. I'm still getting daily e-mails from friends in Yangon who are scared that tourists don't, or won't want to, visit their country. I'll say this again: I think it's very important for tourists to visit Burma/Myanmar. What "really goes on" may not be what you think. Visit the country and decide for yourself.
Not everyone (both Burmese and foreigners) agree with Aung San Suu Kyi's call (which was made many years ago) for a tourism boycott. In fact, many people question this and other policies of hers, believing sthat her defiance and firm stances on various matters have not helped the cause of the people in the country. Frankly, most Burmese could care less about this strange concept of democracy that people keep shouting about. But they certainly DO want improved human rights; the right to demonstrate peacefully, the right to say what they want without fear of being arrested or beaten, the right to access the internet and read what they like. But even more that are the basic things the masses crave: medical care, dependable electric service, affordable transportation and housing, clean water, higher salaries.
Obviously there are some serious problems in the country but if you visit --- and you should --- you'll be surprised to see that the country is quite "normal" in many other ways. Yes, there are bad things going on, but don't believe everything that the Western media force-feeds you. Go and see the country for yourself, meet some people, and help make their lives a little brighter. You can.
I think the conflicting points of view boil down to: how does the benefit of tourism for a tiny part of the population weigh up against the strong signal of a tourism-boycott, which could potentially benefit the entire population? I feel that the latter argument helps ousting the junta, in whatever small way, whereas the first helps perpetuating the situation.
As for the Burmese not wanting democracy: I regard that as a highly doubtful statement, which is likely highly favoured and broadcast by the junta. Who on earth wouldn't want more freedom?
But even if the Burmese wouldn't see the benefit of democracy (also because they're being fed government lies), the things they ask for are arguably more (if not exclusively, in any case for the entire population instead of for only a selected few) present in democratic states than in dictatorships, so at the end of the day, their wishes equal a yearning for self-determination and fairness, which can be condensed in one word: democracy.
The argument 'see for yourself' doesn't hold much weight, in my opinion: we already know that the Burmese government shoot and torture peaceful demonstrators. We already know they are a corrupt bunch who don't give a hoot for human rights or well-being of 'their' people. How much more bad does it need to get before we decide things are really, really bad over there?
And what is a tourist going to see/hear? We can be pretty sure that a Burmese person seen speaking to a tourist won't exactly be left alone. Only the rarest and bravest individuals will risk the wrath of the dictators. An intangible 'getting the message out' is very bad change for the loss of ones job or even a very tangible bullet in the back of the head...
Regarding this statement:
We can be pretty sure that a Burmese person seen speaking to a tourist won't exactly be left alone.
....that's not true at all. And that only underlines my statement about going and seeing things for yourself. Before I even visited Burma I was also under that impression that the actions and activities of foreigners was heavily monitored and observed. You had to watch what you did and where you went. but after 6 visits (lasting 2-3 weeks each time) I can honestly say that this so-called fear of Burmese talking to foreigners is very much overblown. Sure, you have to be careful what you talk about. But I've let locals approach me and have taken some of them out to eat in restaurants and teashops, or gone to amusement parks, karaoke pubs, to pagoda. All over the place. Nobody has even shown the slightest fear of being seen with me or talking to me. And when I return again the next time, I see the same people and nobody has ever told me that they have been questioned by authorities or that I should use caution about anything. We have normal conversations and do normal things and go normal places. Really. Naturally, in light of currents events, I think there now WILL be more caution on the part of the locals. But I've talked to several tourists that visited Burma in the past few weeks and they report that they didn't notice any such fear. But then again, we are talking about other cities, not Yangon.
We can't deny that the Burmese people are very unhappy about the state of things in their country. They want change. Mel is right; chances are better that there will be more freedom in a democratically elected government than in one run by the military or dictators. But I really think it's naive, and unrealistic, to expect sudden a democratic revolution in Myanmar/Burma. There needs to be dialogue and concessions made, but the changes are going to be small ones at first. You just can't displace such a huge military force overnight.
But back to the issue of tourists visiting country, I still maintain it's both good for the locals and good for the tourists. There is so much dis-information going on right now about this country, which makes it even more important for people to go and see things for themselves. I find interesting that virutally all the calls for tourist boycotts are made by people that have never visited the country. By contrast, the people urging more tourists to visit are the ones that have already been to Burma and realize how important their presence is to the local people. The number of tourists visiting the country is still very, very low, which is another reason I would love to see the interational country flood the country with more tourists. The "trickle down" effects won't help everyone in the country, but it sure would help thousands of others that live there. I don't think a tourist boycott would make one iota of difference in displacing the junta.
When you come to Myanmar, come as an independent tourist to see more of the real country. Tour groups are usually shielded from all the "normal" stuff. This is true in every country, even the U.S.. It is easy to get around on your own to see the tourist attractions and also to see things at street level. The tiny group of people that depend on tourism ammounts to several thousand just in Yangon. Nationwide I can't even guess but I know that in Bagan, Inley, Mandalay, Napali and other lesser know locations, substantial segments of the economy depend on tourists in order to survive. You don't have to eat at government eateries or stay at high end government controlled hotels. If the West boycotts, there will simply be more Chineese, Korean and other Asian tourists, I am seeing more of them already and they don't give a hoot about what the government does. The people here are hungry for news from the outside world and what better way to educate them than by face to face interaction. They are bombarded daily in the press and on t.v. and radio with pro goverment propaganda and love to hear other opinions and views.
How many years of sanctions will it take and how many lives will be lost before we see that it just doesn't work? I try to buy everything I can here at the local markets not the government shops and markets and even a little bit makes a big difference to that shopkeeper or trishaw driver or waiter. The government does not depend on tourism and it would easily shrug off a total boycott of tourism and continue on its course of iron rule. Its easy to be idealistic and say boycott the country to show our displeasure at how the country is run but that same idealism is causing harm and even death to a lot of people who have nothing to do with the government or its policies. Come and have a positive influence on real people and meet real needs of a country filled with wonderful people who just want to be free of an oppressive government. It is important to see for yourself. All the news media slant their stories one way or the other in order to produce the intrest, controversy or whatever to keep their audience. You must see things yourself before making blanket decisions about that place. If you only read the New Light of Myanmar newspaper, you would think that the rest of the world is a horrible place filled with liars and warmongers just waiting to take over your homeland.
Like most countries with a similar state of affairs, the rich are very rich and the poor are very poor and there is very little in the middle.
I have noticed that most of the tourists here are either French, Italian, Spanish or German. Any reason for this? Many of the businessmen here are Korean, Chineese,
Singaporean and Indian. Same question about that.
I was in Myanmar in March 2006.
Most of the tourists I saw were Europeans (French/Italian/Spanish/German) on special package holidays who probably didn't know or care about the plight of the Burmese people. A lot of bling, minimal social conscience. Human nature at it's best.
Money has no conscience.
The last I heard the French oil company Total (the new French foreign minister approves of it) has an interest in the Myanmar's oil and gas industry while China, Russia and even India back the military dictatorship for financial and resource reasons. Perth-based Australian construction company Clough has a presence in Myanmar which is copping stick in the local press.
Go, do your utmost to spend your money outside official channels and discover one of the friendliest and most uncommercialised countries in Asia.
Reasons to not go to Burma
- Tourists see nothing of what really goes on..
A bit ripe coming from someone who has just spent a week in Iran
An article from today's Metro on the subject can be found here: Boycott Myanmar, or not? Debate continues over safety, ethics of Burma travel. From the article:
Against, from Arthur Frommer, founder of Frommer guidebooks:
“Now is the time to support a touristic boycott of Myanmar,” Arthur Frommer, founder of the Frommer’s travel guides, wrote in his blog Sept. 24. “Several major U.S. tour operators continue to operate trips to Myanmar, despite pleas not to do so by the country’s democratically-elected leader, the Nobel-prize-winning Aung San Suu Kyi. On occasion after occasion, Mrs. Kyi has emphatically stated that such visits simply support the brutal, thuggish military junta that now rules Myanmar.”
On the for side, Tony Wheeler, founder of Lonely Planet:
“I wouldn’t suggest anybody should go to Burma without their eyes wide open, fully aware of the pluses and minuses of their visit. If they’re aware of that and act accordingly, and maximizing the pluses and minimizing the minuses is something we try very hard to underline in our book, then I think there are positive reasons to visit the country,” <Tony Wheeler, co-founder of Lonely Planet> said in an e-mail from Australia.
“Just one of the comments I’ve received in recent days: ‘I return from my holiday with a simple message from the Burmese I met. Come. Bear witness. Go home and tell others. Bring pressure to bear,’” Wheeler said.
Also, news today that the monks are again starting to protest: Buddhist monks stage small protest in Burma.
[ Edit: Edited on Oct 31, 2007, at 7:39 AM by GregW ]
Myanmar is an amazing place filled with a rich culture and amazing history! It was a highlight of Asia for me. BUT before you go learn about the country. The government has policies that are amazingly opressive, they have ensconsed and insulated themselves from the life of the everyday people. Burma is ripe for change and it won't be to long till this goverment is a thing of the past and changes like I witnessed in Seim Reap happen. It was not recognisable from 6 years ago. Do not go with a group. Ask questions, learn and tell others what you saw.