Should GOOD travellers visit Myanmar/Burma?

Eliza Raymond
Jul 23, 2023

Should GOOD travellers visit countries with severe human rights violations? Is it ever appropriate to boycott destinations? Who is impacted the most when we do?

These are some of the questions we often discuss at GOOD Travel, and following recent media attention on the topic, we decided it was time to tackle some of these questions in our blog.

We reached out to Dr. Andrea Valentin, Founder and Director of Tourism Transparency to seek her input. Tourism Transparency is a small non-profit organisation that focuses on researching the impacts of tourism in Myanmar and advocating for responsible tourism development. Dr. Valentin explains:

We want to learn who benefits from tourism and who doesn't. We work with members of the Myanmar tourism private sector, government, and civil society. Our work with the Myanmar government involves a "Dos and Don'ts for Tourists" cartoon booklet, and our independent research projects currently focus on security and tourism, community-based tourism (CBT), and the new Myanmar draft tourism law. 

Our goal with talking to Dr. Valentin was to begin to develop an understanding of the complex issue of whether it is ethical to visit countries with human rights violations. In this article, we hope to enable you as GOOD travellers to develop your own informed opinion on whether you should visit countries such as Myanmar or whether boycotting would send a stronger message.

First, we asked Dr. Valentin about some of the benefits she has seen tourism bringing to Myanmar. She highlighted the value of tourism to Myanmar from an economic perspective, but also the important role tourism can play in enabling Myanmar to engage with the wider world:

Well, it's not only the creation of jobs and employment through tourism. It is much more than that, it is an engagement with the wider world, which is much needed here. It is possible to visit responsibly in Myanmar and to support small scale family-run businesses, but it's not so easy to do. We're still at the beginning of responsible tourism development in Myanmar. 

But what about the ethical implications of travelling to a destination with severe human rights violations? In an article by Condé Nast Traveler, Antonia Neubauer of the travel company Myths and Mountains states:

Under no circumstances can one condone murder, rape, or ethnic cleansing. Visiting a country, however, is not condoning these acts.

So should you as a GOOD traveller consider a trip to Myanmar? Ultimately, Dr. Valentin believes the answer is yes - as long as you are careful to ensure that you are contributing towards responsible tourism and following Tourism Transparency's Dos and Don'ts for tourists. She believes that Myanmar benefits from responsible tourism and she highlights the particular need for tourists at the moment due to the Rohingya crisis: 

"Tourism numbers are currently down not only due to the Rohingya crisis, but also due to other things such as low value for money (compared with Thailand), lack of infrastructure and high prices. Myanmar is currently a relatively 'pristine' destination coming to terms with the 21st century. It's still not easy to travel and it's not easy for locals to benefit from tourism, but it's all getting better. The best thing is that most of the country is now open to visit. Only a few years ago, you could just visit places on a controlled path through the country - but now you can visit independently and you can go explore a very diverse area. The political instability affects Northern Rakhine state, some areas in Northern Shan state, and some areas in Kachin State in the very north (although Myitkyina and Indawgyi lake are open). Most of the country is very safe for tourists. Six decades of dictatorship won't go away overnight. The country will benefit from responsible tourism."

Most of the country is very safe for tourists. Six decades of dictatorship won't go away overnight. The country will benefit from responsible tourism.

The key then is to ensure that you are supporting responsible tourism. Tourism Transparency has developed a booklet that lists 30 Dos and Don'ts for tourists visiting Myanmar. The list includes tips ranging from not touching the robe of a monk to spending your money wisely. You can download a copy of the booklet for free here. Tourism Transparency also provides a database of tourism businesses where you can read about their featured businesses and find out which ones have caused controversy in the past.

In addition to the tips provided in the booklet, Dr. Valentin shared the following advice for GOOD travellers seeking to have a positive impact in Myanmar:

  • Be open minded
  • Don't romanticise the country
  • Be aware of the incredible diversity of its people -- the largest ethnic diversity in Asia
  • Learn and read up as much as you can, speak with the locals, learn about local history
  • Hire a local tour guide! No-one knows a destination better
  • Try to visit responsibly, spend your money with small businesses, take local buses, etc
  • Leave your preconceptions at home and accept that things may take much longer than you expected
  • Meet the wonderful people that make up Myanmar 

What do you think? We'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments below. We've also shared a few links to recent media articles addressing this topic - have a read and let us know what you agree/disagree with:

If you do end up visiting Myanmar, we recommend reaching out to Tourism Transparency for additional advice and doing everything you can to ensure local communities benefit from your visit. According to Dr. Valentin tourism can offer hope in Myanmar but only if the locals benefit:

Tourism is seen as a hopeful sector. In all the regions that I've worked in, from Kachin to Tanintharyi, tourism is perceived as hopeful, but only if the rules of the game change and locals get to benefit too.
July 23, 2023
5 min read