Sun, sea and a little ethic cleansing

Travel agents are meeting next month to ask whether we should holiday in countries with poor human-rights records

Where would you choose to spend an exotic holiday? Sunbathing on a tropical beach with endless white sands fringed with palm trees? Or maybe you'd appreciate something a little more cultural, a mountain trek and a tour of ancient ruins and remote villages? That's the sort of choice we're used to making.

Where would you choose to spend an exotic holiday? Sunbathing on a tropical beach with endless white sands fringed with palm trees? Or maybe you'd appreciate something a little more cultural, a mountain trek and a tour of ancient ruins and remote villages? That's the sort of choice we're used to making.

But what if that paradise beach happens to be just miles from an entrenched civil war? Or an exotic island's business interests are controlled by a military regime?

Some of the most unpalatable regimes in the world are to be found in countries desperate to attract tourists, and they are keener than ever to persuade us that they have some of the most desirable holiday destinations on offer. Take Burma, for example. Next month it will be promoting itself as an ideal place for an exotic break when it takes a stand at the World Travel Market in London's Earls Court. There will be no mention of its record of oppressing human rights and its lack of democracy. Indeed, Burma is becoming adept at putting a gloss on its image: when it freed human rights activist Rachel Goldwyn last week, after she had served less than two months of a seven-year sentence for singing a pro-democracy protest song, the British woman was treated as a "guest" of the military, heading "up country" for a couple of days sightseeing on an approved tour before flying home.

Burma will be in good company at the World Travel Market. There will also be displays by Indonesia and China. Now the sixth leading international tourist destination, China will be awarded the 1999 World Tourism Award in recognition of the "outstanding impact of travel and tourism in generating employment growth".

But does it matter if we holiday in such countries?

Tourism Concern, which campaigns for responsible tourism, says it does. According to its director, Patricia Barnett, visiting such a country condones its regime, while a boycott would make an oppressive government realise that not everyone in the West is willing to turn a blind eye. "You really need to consider why you're going to Bali," she says, "and to think incredibly hard about why you feel the need to have a holiday in a country deeply embedded in civil strife."

The British Guild of Travel Writers has taken a similar stance and for the first time has urged tourists and tour operators to boycott Indonesia until peace is restored in East Timor. "Individual tourists and tour operators have got to examine their consciences," said Guild vice-chairman Peter Lilley. "It is all too easy to stand by and convince oneself that the matter does not concern you ­ or that there is nothing you can do."

But others in the holiday business disagree. Tony Champion, managing director of Magic of the Orient, which features Burma and Indonesia in its brochures, feels that it's not up to business to draw a moral line. "It is better to keep the doors open and leave the final decision to the client. It's very difficult because almost every country has a human rights record, including our own."

Some tour companies also argue that boycotts can do harm because they affect local people. Bishop Carlos Bellos, head of the Catholic Church in Indonesia, has reportedly called for a tourism boycott but with the business worth £6.5bn to the country, thousands of ordinary Indonesians depend on it for their livelihood. David Abram, author of the Rough Guide to Goa, says, "If people don't go abroad who's really losing?

"It's the poorer people ­ the local hoteliers, the women who rent out the rooms ­ they're the ones who will be most affected. If you asked those women they'd say tourism is a good thing that helps them to make ends meet."

As global tourism proliferates, the lines become ever murkier. Should we object to lazing on Turkey's beaches when we consider their treatment of the Kurds? What about a week in Moscow now that the Russians are systematically destroying Chechen villages? And what about France when they were nuclear testing at Muraroa atoll?

To muddy the moral maze yet further, enter Libya and Iran, now respectable holiday destinations. After the Lockerbie bombing suspects were handed over for trial in the Netherlands earlier this year, a new Mediterranean resort suddenly appeared in the global tourist market place. Explore Worldwide is planning to move into Libya and British Airways now offers two flights a week, rising to three during the summer. It's only a matter of time before Tripoli is building concrete hotels while its souks are overrun with travel guides and American Express is common currency. Despite the gloss of a European resort, Patricia Barnett argues that tourists should scratch the surface before visiting. "Libya is no different to Bali or China ­ you have to make a considered decision about an environment that is perhaps not as trouble-free as you'd like to believe."

Dilemmas of the Moral Traveller

ETHICAL considerations may never play a serious role in your choice of holiday destination, but even if they do, it is not easy to judge what makes a destination "safe", writes Jeremy Atiyah, Travel Editor.

A major difficulty, for example, is the issue of how well the employees in the local tourist industry are being treated. Are they paid fairly? Do they have tolerable working conditions? Or are they treated as something close to slave labour?

There's also money. Is the cash you spend going into the pockets of local people, or the pockets of tour operators back home? And are there opportunities for locals and tourists to relate to each other on any remotely equal basis?

Then you need to think about the consequences of tourism for the environment. In places such as Goa, tourism stands accused of using all the clean water for the needs of luxury hotels. In Spain it goes to keeping golf courses green.

The only simple way to ensure that your tourist dollars do enter the local economy is to spend your money at locally owned and managed concerns.

And if you are still worried, the answer is probably not to go away at all. For your aeroplane will almost certainly cause more pollution than anything else you do during your holiday.

Life and Style
health

Do you qualify – and how do you get it?

News
Food blogger and Guardian writer Jack Monroe with her young son
people
News
i100
News
Privately schooled, Oxford educated and a former editor of arguably the world's poshest magazine 'The Lady', it's perhaps unsurprising that Rachel Johnson rarely mixes with ordinary Proles.
people

The Mayor of London's sister, Rachel Johnson, apologises for shocking tweet about the PM

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Environment
The plant ‘Nepenthes zygon’ was donated to Kew in 2004
environmentNepenthes zygon had been growing for almost a decade and helping to keep down cockroaches
News
This artist impression shows a modern-day Atlantis
news
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer snapped celebrities for 40 years - but it wasn’t all fun and games
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
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
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

    Investigo: Financial reporting Accountant

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: One of the fastest growing g...

    Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luton – £25k

    25,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luto...

    Investigo: Group Financial Controller

    £50000 - £55000 per annum: Investigo: A growing group of top end restaurants l...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Excellent opportunities are available for par...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital