Tricia Barnett: Is it time yet to take a holiday in Burma?

Travel View

It was a simple enough question from a thoughtful journalist committed to environmental and human rights issues and a long-time supporter of Tourism Concern: "Would you like to come to Burma with me now that it's opened up to tourism? We can write an article which will tell it like it really is."

It took me a month to agree to go. As the director of Tourism Concern, I'd been leading a campaign for 16 years not to go to Burma because of the horrendous human rights abuses, and the fact that the money that went from our pockets into the military junta's coffers could be used to buy arms to continue the subjugation of the Karen and Kachin and other minority Burmese groups.

To go was a very difficult decision for me, even though Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD party issued a statement last November that said that visitors coming in small groups, and in solidarity, were welcome.

Yet, it is an interesting time to visit Burma. There is massive hope and expectation, and the language and tone of those in power is changing. Aung San Suu Kyi is broadcasting and holding interviews. She is in the papers. New laws are in the pipeline. Journalists are reporting from Rangoon and the capital Naypyidaw again.

But, as Anna Roberts, co-director of The Burma Campaign, asked me: "Are they really going to change things or is this simply to encourage the dropping of sanctions? Although people have been released from prison, there are still political prisoners in jail. As for tourism, you can't put democracy in your backpack. You can't go as a witness."

What has happened to the people who were forcibly removed from Pagan so that its magical beauty – 3,000 stupas and monuments – could be witnessed "undisturbed" by tourists? The Women's League of Burma would help me understand what is happening to the Kachin women. I would gather testimonials from those who had been forcibly displaced in South-east Burma, whom tourists would never meet.

Having made the decision to go, a generous tour operator agreed to take my journalist friend and I. That's when the circus began. I was clear about our intentions, which they supported. Yet, even though this operator had abided by the boycott all these years, they eventually chickened out of taking both of us because of the "risks" to their operations there. They weren't political they said. Sorry, but wasn't it political when they supported the boycott? I couldn't find another operator to take us.

Why, someone once challenged me, does Tourism Concern champion the cause of human rights in Burma and yet leave alone Israel, Indonesia, Tibet, the USA and Turkey? This raises several issues. Are holidays unquestionably our right? Is it unfair to bring moral values in to play? Each of us makes our own decisions about moral boundaries. But, I would like to posit the question: What are the real costs of our holidays?

Tourism Concern once got a card from Aung San Suu Kyi's sister-in-law, which I treasure, saying that Suu Kyi had asked her to thank us for supporting the request that tourists abstain from visiting Burma until democracy was restored.

If you do decide to go, please think carefully how you do it.

Tricia Barnett is director of Tourism Concern

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there