The Myanmar (Burma) tourism boycott - overview

Why was there a tourism boycott?
From time to time, we are asked to boycott a destination, perhaps as a result of human rights abuses or poor animal welfare records. However, while we believe that boycotting individual tourism attractions can work, we generally don’t believe in boycotting countries. Since Responsible Travel was founded in 2001, there has only been one country we have elected to boycott: Myanmar (Burma).

Why did Responsible Travel boycott?
The wide scale tourism boycott of Myanmar was arguably the largest tourism boycott since that of apartheid South Africa. The main reason for this was that the boycott was requested by Aung San Suu Kyi – the leader of the National League for Democracy who had won the elections in 1990 by a huge majority. However, the ruling military junta ignored this result and continued their brutal rule. Aung San Suu Kyi remained under house arrest, often in solitary confinement.

Many people supported the boycott as the junta’s control of Myanmar meant that any money brought into the country would likely have ended up supporting the regime.

What changed?
Responsible Travel lifted its Myanmar travel boycott in 2011 in response to a statement from the NLD: “The NLD would welcome visitors who are keen to promote the welfare of the common people and the conservation of the environment and to acquire an insight into the cultural, political and social life of the country while enjoying a happy and fulfilling vacation in Burma.” We began to promote responsibly run tours of Burma, those which supported locally run establishments and kept conservation in mind.

Consumer research
In 2006, during the boycott, Responsible Travel carried out a survey to find out people’s views on visiting Burma. Of the 500 responses, 28 percent thought it was right to visit Burma, while 72 percent supported the boycott.

Our stance on boycotts
We have chosen not to boycott other countries as we do not believe it would have the desired impact – whether that is stopping a seal cull or overturning anti LGBT laws. In many cases, it may even make a situation worse. What we do believe, however, is that when traveling in sensitive regions, in oppressed nations, we should tread extra carefully. When a government is corrupt, it is even more important to stay in locally owned accommodation, eat at local restaurants, buy from craftspeople and support communities as much as possible. Meeting and interacting can be hugely beneficial to both parties, and local people are often keen to show that there is much good in their country, as well as the bad stories that always make the headlines. However, in many countries it is inappropriate or even dangerous to discuss politics, particularly in public – always wait for local people to initiate the conversation, and listen – don’t impose your own views.

We do, however, believe that boycotting specific attractions can be very effective – as has been seen recently with the boycott of SeaWorld. We have requested boycotts of places such as Thailand’s Tiger Temple and Sri Lanka’s Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, where a drop in tourism will send a strong message to the industry, and may cause these facilities to close.