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How to travel ethically in Burma

1st May 2012

Tourism to the Asian country is rapidly rising since the boycott was lifted in 2010, but how can travellers ensure their trip is ethical?

After the lifting of the 15-year tourism boycott, visitors are flocking to Burma and it's becoming increasingly easy to do so; companies that had previously been boycotting Burma have rushed to add it to their brochures. In fact, Wanderlust reported in March that tour operators have been 'unable to cope' with the upsurge in interest. As Burma becomes more accessible, questions about travel turn from the practicalities to the ethics of responsible tourism.

There have been concerns that tourists' spending money isn't reaching the ordinary Burmese people and instead funding the government. So how can Burma-hungry  travellers ensure their travel stint is responsible? It's not feasible to avoid financing the government completely as everything has a 10% tax, but there are a few steps that visitors can take to ensure their stay has the best possible affect on the local community.

Mark Watson from the pressure group Tourism Concern spoke to Wanderlust on the topic: “Those wishing to visit Burma in solidarity with the people – either as individuals or in small groups – are now welcomed. People (should) travel independently and ensure that they stay in small, locally owned accommodation, making use of available advice on regime-owned establishments, and using only independent guides.”

Tourism Concern has a wealth of information on their website, listing which companies are actively helping the local community and which hotels are independently owned. The pressure group also advises to eat, shop and sleep in the small, family-owned establishments.

However, the National League for Democracy (NLD) states that a boycott on mainstream package tours and other large tourism operations, such as cruise ships, should remain. Mark explained this was because such tourism is of limited social and economic benefit to most Burmese, while potentially accruing greater revenue for the ruling party and their cronies.

Wanderlust editor-in-chief Lyn Hughes, who visited in September 2011, said, "At the moment, tourism is very much a positive force - the locals want intelligent, caring travellers to visit. As long as you travel with a responsible specialist tour company, as I did, or independently, you will be helping the country, not harming it,"

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