We featured Burma in the second ever issue of Wanderlust – and even Suu Kyi’s mother-in-law Josette rang and asked me not do it again. What should I do now?
We featured Burma in the second ever issue of Wanderlust in February/March 1994. The story caused many strong reactions. Even Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s mother-in-law Josette rang and asked me not to promote Burma as a travel destination.
That phone call, our own feelings towards the regime, and some very clear signals from our readers, combined to discourage further coverage of Burma.
In an editorial accompanying the feature, author Nicholas Greenwood shared his personal view. Here’s an extract:
"For some people this is a dilemma. Should one promote tourism, yet jeopardise Burma’s culture and put money in the coffers of the State Law and Order Restoration Council’s (SLORC) ‘Prince of Evil’?] Secretary-1 KhinNyunt, or should one discourage visitors altogether?
“Certainly since 1992 this decision has become easier to reach. Prior to then, independent travellers were not welcome in Burma and very few – if any – private tour operators were allowed to function. The state run Myanmar Travels & Tours (formerly Tourist Burma) maintained a monopoly on tourism, the MI (Military Intelligence) kept an evil eye on all and the Swiss Bank account of the ‘Prince of Evil’ swelled accordingly…
“Who are we to deprive trishaw and horsecart drivers, hotel porters and genuine, needy Burmese citizens the right to feed themselves and their families? You ask any trishaw driver in Burma if he wants more tourists and I can guarantee the reply will be a firm ‘Yes’.
All visitors to Burma, however, must first be made aware of the SLORC’s terrible crimes against humanity, their hypocrisy, duplicity and evil money-making schemes and the political and economic morass created by the heinous despot Ne Win.
“At the same time, we, who are privileged and fortunate enough to enjoy the democratic rights and freedom of speech, should continue to fight for the unconditional release of the Nobel Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all remaining political prisoners in Burma, for the transfer of power to the democratically elected government…, for a political solution to the civil conflict and for the promotion of humanitarian aid to the oppressed people of Burma."
Burma is one of those places where it’s impossible to separate travel and politics. However, with Suu Kyi’s release, we’ll be looking very closely at whether we should feature Burma again – in a very responsible way.
Did the tourism boycott discourage you from visiting Burma? Now that the boycott has been lifted, and Suu Kyi released from house arrest, will you be visiting Burma?