Simon Calder: Tyranny and the tourist's conscience

The man who pays his way

You probably have a travel boycott or two of your own. I first flew on Ryanair 20 years ago. After a mix-up at Dublin that cost me £40, I vowed I would never fly on the airline again. That boycott ended the moment I needed to get from Stansted to Prestwick, but I have had more success in spurning the Venezuelan airline Viasa, Tirana's grim Hotel Kalaja and Middlesbrough on a Saturday night, following unfortunate experiences with each of them. (My vow never to fly on Viasa again, prompted by inflight poisoning, was made easier when the dismal airline went bust.)

Tourism boycotts operate on many levels. In southern Africa, visitor numbers suggest plenty of travellers are informally choosing Zambia over Zimbabwe. It seems the former Southern Rhodesia is benefitting from tourists' reluctance to spend any cash that might sustain the appalling Robert Mugabe.

After the Tiananmen Square massacre – or was it oppression in Tibet? – the People's Republic of China appeared on a good few no-go lists. And while there are many good motives for visiting the United States, you may be equally adept at finding reasons not to visit, from US belligerence in other people's countries to the draconian admission procedures.

Yet voting with your wallet, or your conscience, is an imperfect weapon. The success or failure of any boycott – whether deployed by an individual tourist, a newspaper travel section or the entire UN – is difficult to measure.

The Independent Traveller has covered many destinations whose human-rights records are at best questionable. Consider just one category of country: alluring tropical islands. Sri Lanka and Cuba are hardly bastions of tolerant liberal democracy – yet we explain why you might want to go, and how best to get there.

ppp For the past 18 years, one exception has been Burma – or Myanmar, as the dictatorship deemed the country should be known. Our boycott began when our writer, Harriet O'Brien, met the democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, on a visit to Rangoon. The generals in charge decreed 1996 to be Visit Myanmar Year, and used forced labour to build many of the tourist facilities to support the marketing drive. Suu Kyi asked British tourists to boycott the country; as a newspaper, we agreed that a visit could be tantamount to condoning slavery.

Last year Suu Kyi's view softened. Her party now invites "visitors who are keen to promote the welfare of the common people". So today our boycott ends.

The natural follow-up question: why draw the line almost at the bottom of the human-rights league table? How can we justify going any further down the slippery slope of oppression than Scandinavia?

Partly because we want to serve our readers' interests and aspirations. Travellers have long shown a healthy appetite for nations with unsavoury rulers. Before the Arab Spring, we offered guidance to Tunisia's beaches and the historic treasures of Egypt even as presidents Ben Ali and Mubarak stifled dissent.

Most importantly, travel is by its nature enriching: to you, the tourist, emotionally; to your hosts, economically. These benefits, we feel, should be denied only in extremis. That is why we stray beyond a weekly 48 Hours in Trondheim coupled with a Traveller's Guide to Jutland.

Let us know what you think of this policy – and the places you regard as beyond the pale, and deserving of a boycott.

The freedom to take direct action

The longer your memory, the more places you need to avoid. Travellers who deplored Apartheid might choose to steer clear of Cape Verde. The islands' main airport, Sal, was used as a refuelling stop by South African Airways between Johannesburg and London when other African nations refused permission.

In 2012, football fans who support neither Arsenal nor Manchester City may wish to choose a Gulf-based airline other than the clubs' respective sponsors, Emirates and Etihad. Gulf Air is an obvious alternative – except that it is based in Bahrain, where anti-government protesters have been treated abysmally.

Yet perhaps you can make an effective protest by flying. Gulf Air's fare of £398 return to Mumbai (on Opodo.co.uk) looks so low that the airline may be losing money on the deal. So, fly Gulf Air, strike a blow for freedom.

travel@independent.co.uk

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power