What do you do when you find out that one of your must-see destinations is a hotbed of controversial politics, human rights violations, or known for unethical animal practices?
For example, Myanmar (previously known as Burma), is known for its lush forests and many Buddhist temples; but the government is also infamous for its religious clashes and the continued persecution of Rohingya Muslim minorities.
Cuba and Ecuador are both popular destinations that faced major issues that severely impacted tourism. Cuba with Fidel Castro’s ascent to power and, Ecuador with unregulated tourism that threatened the biodiversity of the Galapagos Islands.
Another destination fraught with controversy is Libya, which became synonymous with Muammar al-Gaddafi and terrorism. Similarly, Sri Lanka became known for its associations with wartime genocide and human rights violations after the conflict with the separatist Tamil Tigers. Both countries have recently been promoting tourism to their many ancient sites and visits to their great natural beauty (one more successfully than the other).
Tibet was incorporated by the Chinese government in 1959, forcing the Dalai Lama and his government into exile in India. Zimbabwe, on the other hand, is infamous for its conflict diamonds. Many visitors worry that travelling to these places merely puts money in the hands of these controversial governments.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is home to the rare (and endangered) mountain gorilla but is also known for conflict and the indiscriminate poaching of these animals.
Also Read: How To Go On Ethical Safaris In Africa
Do We Boycott These Places Or Not
The obvious solution to all these ethical issues is to refuse to travel to these destinations. This way, you can be sure that you’re not supporting unethical practices or funding corrupt governments.
Tourism is a vital part of the economy of many countries, making tourists a powerful socio-economic force. But what happens when this tourism money goes away?
In many instances, boycotting a destination for ethical or political reasons has changed the world (for example it helped abolish apartheid in South Africa). But, in many cases, it may not always be the best practice.
This doesn’t mean that you ignore all the country’s issues and travel there anyway, but rather that you make an informed decision about where you choose to go.
Also Read: What’s up with mass tourism?
What We Can Do Instead
Travel has the potential to change the lives of the people we visit. Oppressive regimes tend to work best when the world is in the dark about their practices, and shining a spotlight on them can both help raise awareness and make extreme violence less likely.
It can also bring people access to world news and different ideas and beliefs, bringing awareness of human rights, endangerment of species and so on.
Boycotting may also harm those whose livelihoods depend on it. Tourism provides direct employment to tens of thousands of innocent civilians and staying away harms their ability to earn a living.
There are lots of ways to visit your favourite destinations while refraining from promoting iffy practices. You could avoid certain experiences (such as captive animal experiences) or government-run businesses and hotels, instead choosing to empower local businesses.
Ultimately, the choice is up to you. While some people travel to relax and forget, for some, immersing themselves in another culture is a better way to change the world than by staying away and avoiding the world’s problems.
This obviously does not mean that you put yourself at undue risk or do anything that can get you in serious trouble. If you’re planning to go somewhere known for such practices, be sure to stay informed so you can make a decision from a place of awareness.
So what do you think? To boycott, or not to boycott? Let us know in the comments below.