Boycott Lonely Planet for Burma?

THE TRADE UNION CONGRESS has called for a boycott of all Lonely Planet travel guides until the publisher pulls their Burma edition from the shelves, saying that the country’s tourism trade only filters more money into the hands of a brutal regime. The TUC has posted an online petition, though the BBC, which now owns Lonely Planet, has already issued a statement saying they have decided not to comply.

The issue draws a fine line between ethics and freedom of information, though in reality there’s certainly some overlap. According to a recent BBC news report, the Corporation has said of its Burma edition: “It provides information and lets readers decide for themselves.”

At the front of the volume, there is a clear list of pros and cons.

Its reasons not to go include:

  • Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi opposes tourism
  • The military government uses forced labour
  • International tourism seen as ‘stamp of approval’
  • Money from tourism goes to the military government

Reasons to go are:

  • Tourism one of few areas to which locals have access
  • Carefully targeted spending reaches individuals in need
  • Locals have told travel guide authors they are in favour
  • Abuses less likely in areas frequented by foreigners

That LP provides travelers with this list may be ironic. If you’ve bought the book, you’ve likely already made the choice and the guide will certainly enable that decision. But denying people access to this information doesn’t seem right either; if people are going to Burma, it’s better that they go armed with the right information. While the TUC’s argument certainly has veracity, its reasoning is somewhat analogous to the conservative claim that taking away condoms will stop teenagers from having sex — it won’t, it will just make it more dangerous.

It’s also worth noting that the most recent version of LP’s guide to Burma was published in 2005, it its ninth edition. The 2007 September protests and ensuing crackdowns may have been a visceral reminder of the terrible nature of Burmese junta, but the country has been a police state since 1962 — this boycott, if it had merit, would seem long overdue.

Photo: marcia reads the lonely planet, by Ed Fladung.

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1 Response to “Boycott Lonely Planet for Burma?”


  1. 1 wanderer7 February 25, 2008 at 10:53 am

    seems a bit extreme and self-righteous to me.

    we can desire companies to be “ethical” and “moral” but they have their own values. (ie making profits)

    then we want everyone to be “ethical” and “moral” so THEY enfocre the boycott, but everyone is an individual who makes their own choices.

    If someone is in the wrong (in this case Burma) they bear the burden.


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