Information from Burma Campaign UK

Mark Farmaner, Media and Campaigns Officer


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28 July 2003

The Burma Campaign UK today welcomed news that luxury travel firm Abercrombie & Kent is to stop operating tours to Burma at the end of this year. The company has been on a ‘dirty list’ of companies in Burma published by the Burma Campaign UK.lo

“This is excellent news,” said Anna Roberts, Campaigns Officer at the Burma Campaign UK. “Abercrombie and Kent were one of the last significant tour operators left in Burma. It further isolates Orient Express, Carnival Cruises and Noble Caledonia. We will be stepping up pressure on them to withdraw as well.”

Earlier this month the British government wrote to travel companies asking them to stop tours to Burma. Abercrombie & Kent are the first travel company to respond to the government’s request.

Burma, ruled by one of the most brutal military dictatorships in the world, is the subject of a tourist boycott following calls by Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Burma’s democracy movement, for tourists to stay away. Tourism provides the generals with an important source of foreign currency, and slave labour has been widely used to build tourist infrastructure.

Earlier this year Kuoni and Travelsphere announced they are also ending tours to Burma.

For more information contact Anna Roberts on 020 7281 7377, or Mark Farmaner, Media Officer, on 020 7281 7377, mobile 07941 239 640.

To contact Abercrombie & Kent call Charlotte Fraser on 0207 259 1116.



Tuesday 22 July 2003

The Burma Campaign UK today welcomed news that the Royal Society for Asian Affairs is cancelling a planned tourist trip to Burma. The Burma Campaign UK has been lobbying for the Society to call off the trip.

Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently under arrest in an unknown location, has called for a tourist boycott. Tourism is an important source of income for the regime, and forced labour has been used to build tourist infrastructure. Earlier this month the British government announced it had written to tour operators asking them to stop tours to Burma.

In a letter to the Burma Campaign UK, Society Chairman Sir Harold Walker said it would be “inappropriate to organise a visit to Burma at the present time: the visit planned for October-November will accordingly not go ahead.”

“We congratulate the Royal Society for taking this decision,” said Anna Roberts, Campaigns Officer at the Burma Campaign UK. “It further isolates the few remaining companies operating tours to Burma.”

For more information contact Anna Roberts on 020 7281 7377 or Mark Farmaner, Media Officer, on 020 7281 7377, mobile 0794 1239640



4 July 2003

The British government has announced it will be writing to all travel organisations with links to Burma asking them to end their involvement in tourism to the country. Foreign Office minister Mike O’Brien made the announcement in a debate on Burma in the House of Commons just before calling on British American Tobacco to close its factory there.

The Burma Campaign UK - which has campaigned for many years to stop companies operating tours to Burma - welcomed the move by the British Government. The Burma Campaign has been lobbying the government to take a tougher line on tourism to Burma.

“This is an endorsement of what we have been saying for years,” said Yvette Mahon, Director of the Burma Campaign UK. “Travel firms operating in Burma are helping to fund the regime, they have to stop.”

Foreign office minister Mike O’Brien MP said in the debate on 2nd July:

“In 1998, the late Derek Fatchett wrote to travel associations in Britain explaining why the Government were concerned about their encouragement of travel in Burma. In the light of the deteriorating situation there, I propose to write to all travel organisations with any links with tourism in Burma. There are very few of them, but if any are involved, we shall target them and ask them not to allow, encourage or participate in tourism in Burma. Some people go to Burma for their own reasons, and we want to discourage them from doing so.”

Following a crackdown on the democracy movement on 30th May and the massacre of up to 100 democracy supporters, the Burma Campaign UK vowed to step up its campaign against tourism to Burma and has also written to tour operators. Earlier this year Kuoni announced it is to end tours to Burma following pressure by the Burma Campaign UK. This week Travelsphere Holidays also announced it is to end trips to Burma “for commercial and moral reasons.” The Burma Campaign UK is currently preparing a major campaign against Orient Express, one of the last significant tour operators in Burma.

A decade ago the regime in Burma identified tourism as a key potential source of income. In no other country are human rights abuses and tourism so closely linked. Slave labour has been widely used to build tourist infrastructure and over a million people forced to leave their homes. Burma’s regime claims it earns $100 million a year from tourism. It spends over 40 percent of its budget on the military.

Around thirty tour operators feature on a ‘dirty list’ of companies in Burma. The list will be updated later this month.

For more information contact Yvette Mahon, Director of Burma Campaign UK on 0207 281 7377, mobile 07957 301 346, or Mark Farmaner, Media Officer, on 0207 281 7377, 0794 123 9640.



(John Jackson heads the London-based Burma Campaign UK. He recently spoke to The Irrawaddy about pressing for sanctions and targeting companies doing business with the regime in Rangoon.)

Question: Lately, more and more companies which decide to leave Burma are citing financial and economic reasons, saying Burma is just a hard place to make money. Are politics and human rights becoming less important?

Answer: When Triumph pulled out of Burma they said it was damage to their reputation that forced their decision. Kuoni mentioned the need for democracy if they are to return to Burma. Premier was pushed out by their major shareholder, Amerada Hess, who succumbed to coordinated pressure by the US and UK campaigns. We know that there will always be a number of factors that make a company withdraw. But we know a key factor is damage done to a company’s reputation by our campaigns.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that companies suddenly decide that the economic climate in Burma is too inhospitable just as we start campaigning against them. I would agree that for most companies, politics and human rights are less important. What is important is the extent to which being in Burma damages their overall business. The critical thing is that these two things are inextricably connected. We can inflict damage to their reputation because of human rights issues. This then has an impact on a company’s ability to raise capital, retain the best staff, recruit the best staff, build a positive brand image or satisfy the growing requirements of investors that the company is governed responsibly. It is when human rights issues impact negatively on their profitability and brand, that these issues become economic concerns for companies. That connection that gives us leverage.

Q: Companies with an interest in tourism, like Intrepid Travel and Lonely Planet still argue that foreign visitors can contribute to Burma by helping to boost the local economy for people inside the country. How do you respond?

A: The regime itself is the greatest sanction imposed on Burma. It is the mismanagement of Burma’s economy and lack of political reform by the military that is creating appalling suffering for people in the country.

Companies like Intrepid and Lonely Planet are interested in penetrating and developing new markets. When we first launched the campaign against Lonely Planet, its founder Tony Wheeler banged on about his guide’s commitment to responsible travel, helping local people and not promoting government facilities. Yet his guide was singing the praises of the Sittwe Hotel, which was government-owned and according to the ILO, built using forced labor.

It’s interesting that the pro-tourism lobby never asks people who have their homes destroyed for the building of golf courses or hotels, what they think of tourism. Or those who have been forced to build airports or railways. Or some of the 75 percent of people who live in rural areas for whom tourism means nothing. We have talked to people who actually work in Burma’s tourism sector, and their views are much more complex than that portrayed by the travel companies. It is not the case that they think tourism is all good, many know that the industry they work in supports the regime that oppresses them and their fellow citizens.

The tourism industry has pumped over US $1 billion into Burma, and much of this has fuelled a regime that keeps over 45 million people in poverty. Our priority is to end that situation. As long as the regime benefits from tourism, the National League for Democracy asks for a boycott and people throughout Burma continue to suffer from tourism-related human rights abuses, we will continue.

Q: What about the successes and failures of your campaign? The military says more tourists are coming to Burma this year.

A: Nearly 60 percent of visitors travel over Burma’s land borders for a few hours, then return to China or Thailand. The regime is still nowhere near its target for visitors who stay a few days or weeks and use their hotels. Many hotels are still only 30 percent full at the height of the season. SARS has added to their woes with lots of cancellations of bookings. Between April and October last year, arrivals were down 11 percent on the previous year. Foreign investment in the sector has collapsed. Basically the boycott campaign, the regime’s incompetence and the fear of SARS means that the regime is failing to gain the revenue it wants from this sector.

NOTE: The articles introduced in this Clearinghouse do not necessarily represent the views of the Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team (tim-team)