Myanmar: Is there a moral dilemma for tourism?


BANGKOK, 19 October 2017: Does tourism promotion have any role in resolving complex religious, political, socio-economic challenges such as currently being experienced by the Rohingya people and the Myanmar authorities?

Can tourism provide solutions for the long-term settlement of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees crossing over the border from Myanmar to Bangladesh?

I believe not. Also with reference to the travel media (as opposed to mass media) they promote tourism, which provides a sustainable, trickle-down stream of revenue to the people, particularly the poor.

Puppets for sale at a local market near the Ananda Temple in Bagan.

Does the travel media community want to restrict its support and stifle this revenue source?

No, I want to support and enhance it. Of course I am concerned that many people have been displaced and I hope the situation will improve soon. I equally believe that by not supporting tourism and the revenue it provides, would not be the answer.

Safety for tourists in Myanmar is not an issue as the refugee crisis is in a remote area near the border with Bangladesh, which has always been off-limits to tourists.

Visiting Myanmar is the right thing to do because travel benefits people all around the country from any race or religion.

In many countries we face similar issues that create tensions between different religious groups, usually in border areas.

As for the situation in Myanmar, I firmly believe that the tourism industry can play no part in resolving these issues.

Tourists are generally discouraged from venturing into sensitive areas. However that does not stop tourists enjoying wonderful holidays across the country. To resolve these issues will require a political solution.

I  have visited Myanmar on numerous occasions, most recently in August and again earlier this month.

My visit in October was to review what is currently happening in Myanmar with regard to its tourism. I spent a week traveling the country under the guidance of Myanmar Tourism Marketing (MTM).

The Phaung Daw Oo procession on Inle Lake.

The highlight of the tour was the visit to Inle Lake to watch the magnificent Phaung Daw Oo festival and the one-legged boat races.

Throughout my trips this year to Myanmar I have experienced only happy warm smiles and wonderful welcomes. At no point was security ever an issue. Life is very much carrying on as normal.

Myanmar is moving into its high season and this is a great time to visit the country. I strongly recommend that you do so.

I’m very comfortable as a member of the international travelling community to continue to visit Myanmar and to provide the economy with tourism revenue as well as broaden my own travel experiences. As for the moral dilemma that asks us if we should be supporting Myanmar’s tourism, my answer is quite simple – yes.

About the author

English born Andrew J Wood, is a freelance travel writer and for most of his career a professional hotelier. Andrew has over 35 years of hospitality and travel experience. He is a Skal member and director of WDA Travel Co. Ltd and its subsidiary, Thailand by Design (tours/travel/MICE). He is a hotel graduate of Napier University, Edinburgh. Andrew is also a former member of the Executive Committee of Skal International, National President Thailand, Club President of Skal Bangkok and is currently Skal Asia Area acting vice president Southeast Asia and director of public relations, Skal International Bangkok. He is a regular guest lecturer at various Universities in Thailand including Assumption University’s Hospitality School and the Japan Hotel School in Tokyo.


  1. Whilst I have no doubt that Andrew’s comments and sentiments are well intentioned I believe it time that the Travel Industry – and it’s commentators – adopted a more realistic and responsible view of world situations.
    I cannot recall any relatively recent article from a Travel commentator which has called on people NOT to travel at times of conflict. The free flowing hospitality has miraculous powers to get commentators to focus on how wonderful everything is in the participants’ direct field of vision. Perhaps we should be taking a more balanced perspective.
    In 1936, Germany hosted the Berlin Olympics. In spite of calls from numerous commentators not to support the Games and by doing so give validity to the Nazi regime, the Games went ahead anyway and were very well supported and drew numerous positive comments from international visitors.
    At that time the Jewish population, which by then represented well under 1% of the German population was being subjected to numerous civil discriminations which made day to day life extremely difficult – although there was not yet at that time an overt programme of institutionalized murder against them. Things were to get MUCH worse.
    Nevertheless there was international outcry at their plight in the 1930s.
    The Games and positive PR went ahead anyway. Fast forward 10 years and see how that all worked out for the world.
    The Rohingya represent around 2% of the total number of people living in Myanmar.
    A very substantial minority and more than double the number of Jews in Germany in 1936.
    I shall not refer to the Rohingya as Myanmar Nationals since the Government of Myanmar denies them that – even though most were born in Myanmar and some families have lived there for generations.
    The Rohingya in Myanmar are substantially a consequence of the British Empire and its arrogance in meddling in the affairs of other countries. The British, and particularly that arm of Empire, the East India Company, encouraged large numbers of Bengalis to migrate into the Arakan State area to provide cheap labour and to farm the lightly populated area.
    In the mid 20th Century it became evident that the game was up with “Empire” and that Britain, exhausted by two Global conflicts in a few years, no longer had the resources to hang on to its occupied territories. So Britain pursued a policy of granting its Colonies independence – in effect scarpering and leaving behind an unholy mess. The strategy was largely to leave as quickly as possible and leave the locals to sort the mess out for themselves.
    We left what is now Myanmar with close to 2% of the people living in the country having absolutely no National, ethnic or religious affinity with the majority population.
    A group that had never integrated with the majority population and who because of their markedly ethnic and religious divergence from the majority probably had little motivation to do so. We left the Rohingya in a perilous situation.
    It was hardly fair on the people of Myanmar either and, human nature being what it is, not entirely surprising that they should wish to be rid of them. They had never asked the Rohingya to come. It was the British who were substantially responsible for them being there. Perhaps we should ask ourselves, “Is this Britain’s responsibility?”
    We are quick to elect ourselves as world peacekeepers and become involved in all sorts of seemingly unattached situations and conflicts. But not this one. Nothing to be gained here.
    The Rohingya are dark skinned and Muslim, and are according to conventional wisdom “in someone else’s country” so have little sympathy in the world. But do they deserve to have their people murdered, their wives and daughters gang raped and their homes burnt to the ground?

    There are far more Rohingya in Myanmar than there were Jews in Germany in 1936, and their sufferings are currently more brutal.
    To effectively say “I didn’t see it, it’s not going on round here and Tourists don’t travel to that part of Myanmar anyway so are safe” is an avoidance of the moral dichotomy and could even bear resemblance to Neville Chamberlain – the then British Prime Minister’s – words in 1938 when triumphing in his final act of appeasement with Hitler. When vindicating his decision not to support the Czechs against the bullying of Germany and to leave the Czechs to their fate he infamously described the situation as “a quarrel in a faraway country amongst people of whom we know nothing”.
    Look how that worked out for the world.
    If we truly want a world without terrorism an essential prerequisite is a world without terror.
    Against ANY group of people.

    I do believe Andrew’s comments are sincere and well meaning but we all have an obligation to look a little further than what is directly in front of us.

  2. Mr Wood should reconsider his probably well-intentioned but misguided view.

    It is governments which benefit most from tourism, together with companies linked to it, including hotels, travel agencies and shops. None of these face any great hardship. Their employees receive salaries whatever. Outside of the sector, particularly in rural areas, any “sustainable, trickle-down stream of revenue to the people, particularly the poor” would be difficult to identify.

    His argument is therefore hard to accept.

    It is much harder however to accept his desire to: “support and enhance” travel to a country run by a government and a military committing ethnic cleansing on a colossal scale. Reports of utter horror emerge daily. The world meanwhile stands idly by as heinous atrocities continue, some too horrific to comprehend – and actually being carried out by a country promoting international tourism.

    The degree of suffering is hard to grasp. Human Rights Watch estimates killings in the thousands. They might be the lucky ones, because those who have been gang-raped, tortured, mutilated, burned or forced to witness atrocities carried out, will have to live with the memory for a lifetime. The future of those who have survived the mass murder is also in doubt. According to today’s UK Guardian: “close to one million Rohingya are now living in mud huts, tents and under sheets of tarpaulin in the refugee camps outside the Bangladeshi port town of Cox’s Bazar” What will happen to them, including the hundreds of thousands of children with them?

    Do we care?

    The hypocrisy of self-serving indifference to human suffering is revealed in a recent article by Ryan Cooper: I recommend that Mr. Wood reads it, together with all those who share his view. This should include his associates in Myanmar Tourism Marketing.

    And how much hideous suffering and killing still lies ahead? This is not Rwanda, Bosnia or Syria; this is GENOCIDE being carried out by a MEMBER OF ASEAN.

    An emergency meeting of ASEAN heads should therefore be called immediately to consider whether Myanmar is abiding by the ASEAN commitment to: “promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries in the region, and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter”

    In this there is little doubt, and Myanmar should be expelled from the Association forthwith. This action, widely publicised, together with a total boycott of tourism by the travel industry and international travellers, might be the only thing the government, the military (and the brainwashed man in the street) can understand.

    Are there any senior persons in our industry with the moral conscience to take this forward?

    If so, please step up. The cost of doing nothing is unthinkable.

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