Why boycotting travel to Myanmar can do more harm

Mist rises over the enchanting Bagan, Myanmar
Mist rises over the enchanting Bagan, Myanmar

Myanmar has made headlines around the world in relation to the Rohingya events of 2017, but is avoiding travel to the country a good idea?

Often the segment of society that suffers the most because of travel boycotts are local tourism providers and the many subsidiary small businesses who rely on tourism dollars for their livelihood and who do not reflect the beliefs of extremist militants. World Expeditions hold the people of Myanmar, their culture and their environment in high regard and don’t believe boycotting a destination is ideal as it is hurting local communities.

Ultimately, the question that needs to be asked is who are affected the most from a travel boycott – is it local citizens who were set to benefit from tourism income or the military?

We believe that continuing to offer tours in Myanmar, in line with our responsible travel philosophy, is not only the right but also sustainable thing to do. We work actively with our partner in Myanmar who employ staff from the region and who use locally owned accommodations, restaurants and transportation to ensure funds entering Myanmar through their tourism operation do not support the regime.

While some inevitable taxes received by the government from tourism activities will go to government programs, representing a very small percentage, most funds from tourism will reach the local and ethnic minorities. By directing travellers’ dollars through the right channels this supports local people.


Quick Summary: the Rohingya crisis

The Myanmar government have denied most Rohingya people of citizenship for generations, contending that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite many Rohingya families living in Myanmar for generations.

Rohingya people faced incidences in 2012 and 2016, however the events in the Rakhine State in August 2017 became the precursor of the population’s growing humanitarian crisis. The Rohingya people now form one of the largest stateless populations in the world.

What our partner on the ground say the situation is like

One of the questions that will come to mind when thinking of travelling to Myanmar will be: how safe is it? The situation with the Rohingya Muslims is isolated to a tiny section of the country, bordering Bangladesh. The most northern part of the Rakhine State, which is located on the western coast of Myanmar, is where the Rohingya issue is primarily concentrated and at a significant distance from main tourist areas where many foreign travellers journey and reside.


Having operated trips in Myanmar since 2010, we are very familiar with the regions which the Australian Government advise to 'do not travel' to and having our people on the ground ensures that we are close to developments as they occur with up-to-date news that our advice to travellers is current and accurate. Our philosophy is that the safety of our travellers comes first.

In saying that, tourists are welcomed with open arms and broad smiles throughout the country and have never been the target of or affected by any incidents. Tours offered by World Expeditions are primarily in the central plain region of Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, around the Inle Lake area and the south-eastern states of Mon and Kayin where with expert local insight, we take travellers to both the best known sites and authentic ‘off the beaten path’ experiences.


Debunking some myths: Did you know?

Myanmar is reported to be the world's most generous country and has held this title over four consecutive years.

According to the Charities Aid Foundation's World Giving Index – a study of global generosity – in 2017, 91% of adults in Myanmar donated money to charity, which is significantly high when compared to the United States of America (who was fifth behind Myanmar) and Australia (who listed sixth on the list).

Myanmar’s philanthropic culture highlights an altruistic community, likely brought about by the large number of practicing Buddhists as well as the steady growth in local morale, despite enduring extended periods of strife and economic recession. 

5 tips to travel responsibly in Myanmar:

  • Source an ethical operator. World Expeditions’ partner with a local operator in Myanmar to support local communities and ethnic minorities, while treating and paying staff correctly.
  • Spend your money locally. Try traditional transportation in Myanmar, spread your wealth at different vendors or purchase local handicrafts and artworks, all of which can support these communities.
  • Conduct your visit in a sensitive and informed way. Examples include, wearing conservative clothing when visiting religious sites and avoid giving money or gifts to children as it can result in locals becoming dependant on hand outs.

Photo: Greg Lee

  • Learn a bit of Burmese. Locals love engaging with visitors so learning simple words such as ‘min-ga-laba’ (hello or greetings) and ‘jeh-zu tin-ba-deh’ (thank you) is polite and heartening way to speak with Myanmar people. It can even strike up a conversation; and if you can’t remember the local word for ‘hello’ don’t worry, many locals will be calling this greeting so often you’ll know it in no time.
  • Recognise that poverty exists but avoid hand-outs. While it is tempting to give money to children begging on the street, it can encourage children to continually ask foreigners for money and reinforce the bad situation they are in. Alternatively, donate to a local charity that works to keep children off the streets, with their family and in school. Read more on gift-giving overseas – is it okay or not?

Travel can be a conduit for understanding, tolerance and peace, allowing travellers in Myanmar to easily access the truth about the situation.

While some travellers may feel the need to stay away from countries that are negatively reported in the news, it is important to research as much information as you can source to ensure you make informed decisions and not miss out on extraordinary experiences that await.

What’s your stance on travel boycotts? Let us know in the comments below.

Myanmar, Responsible Travel, thoughtful traveller, travel advice, travel boycott

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