Comment: To boycott or not to boycott

This article was first published on Republished with permission.

Ethical travel as a concept is now common discourse, with travelers increasingly asking now they can minimise the impact they have on local communities, as well as expressing growing interest in volunteerism and working with communities to enact change. Travelers hold a unique position of economic power over the whole tourism supply chain – transport, accommodation, hospitality and other vital aspects of many burgeoning economies. Tourism boycotts are a common and somewhat popular way to cash in on this power.

Avaaz, an international advocacy and campaigning community, has recently realised this potential in a campaign in the Maldvies against an outdated law that has led to a 15-year-old rape victim being sentenced to 100 lashes. The Maldives rely heavily on tourism, and the fact that nearly two million people have signed this petition shows the potential power that tourists have. The Maldives’ former president Mohamed Nasheed recognised this potential when he asked for a tourism boycott last year, telling the UK Financial Times newspaper that tourists visiting the country would just be bankrolling an illegitimate government.

The idea of shunning a country is far from new. Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for a tourism boycott of her country in 1999, arguing that tourism is “a form of moral support for [the military regime]…they seem to look on the influx of tourists as proof that their actions are accepted by the world.”

This decade-long boycott was declared ”over” in late 2010 following a statement from the National League for Democracy, the Burmese political opposition party led by Suu Kyi. In 2011, Survival International called for a boycott of Botswana following the closure of a local waterhole essential to the Bushmen at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. This boycott was only lifted when the Bushman won the legal case and the borehole was reopened after nine years.

Sometimes the proposed tourism boycott is just for a particular area or a particular company. Environmentalists are calling for a tourist season boycott of a New Jersey shore town in the USA over the local council’s decision to use tropical hardwood to rebuild their boardwalk. pushes for a Canadian tourism boycott in a bid to end seal hunting. British tourists are being asked to boycott Thai elephant camps, something international animal activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal (PETA) has strongly supported. Dutch journalist Jos van Noord called for a boycott of Egypt and other Arab countries last year in order to stop violence against local Christians. However, Arab-West Report argues that this tourism boycott will only hurt Christians, saying the international travel community should instead be working to promote and reinvigorate tourism in the Middle East as so much of the local economy relies on this trade.

Last year’s arrest and conviction of the first gay hotel owners in Granada, Nicaragua, has “prompted some members of the gay community to boycott Nicaragua tourism,” according to The Nicaragua Dispatch. The authorities claim that the Belgian men were exploiting minors; however supporters insist that the foreigners were targeted because of their sexual orientation. The town has already seen a drop in local tourism, although it is unclear whether this is a result of the boycott or of fear.

Back in the Maldives, recently dismissed Chinese employees of the Beach House Iruveli resort have claimed discrimination against staff and tourists from China. Initial reports suggest that, following an eruption of such claims through Chinese social media networks several potential tourists from that nation are concerned and reluctant to make reservations – not just with the resort but in the Maldives in general.

But do tourism boycotts actually achieve anything?

Corporate Ethics International’s Michael Max argues that “boycotts don’t have to reduce the number of tourists to be successful… The reality is that the mere awareness of a boycott causes the target constituency and its supporters to attend more to criticism of their government’s or companies’ policies and inevitably they become more aware of the legitimacy of the criticism.”

Travel consultant David Beirman, however, told Australia’s The Sydney Morning Herald in 2007 that boycotts can be counterproductive as they hurt local people who rely on an income from tourism. This argument was widely used during the Burma boycott; Lonely Planet co-founder Tony Wheeler was particularly vocal in encouraging travel to the insulated nation over the past decade.

Should travelers adhere to calls for boycotts?

Travel, particularly ethical travel, is a highly personal journey. Traveling exposures us to new ideas and concepts. By opening ourselves to these experiences, we will undoubtedly be faced with difficult moral and ethical decisions. Ethical travelers have a duty to make themselves aware of these issues and to act both appropriately and responsibly.

The best advice is to ensure that you are well informed of the political, social, and economic contexts of your destination before you travel, and make your own decision about whether you want your hard-earned cash to support that particular institution or regime. Wherever possible, try to support local businesses.

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”

– Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of India

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


10 thoughts on “Comment: To boycott or not to boycott”

  1. I would hope that at least LGBT travellers boycott the Maldives, where gay sex could get you 20+ lashes and 1-3 years in jail (for the locals ofcourse). Maldivians, most of whom are very homophobic and getting increasingly so, clearly don't deserve any benefits from the pink dollar.

  2. Are these 'ethical travelers' come from countries that do not pollute the environment, out source their polluting factors to China, or sell arms to Africa and run diamond mines in Sierra Leone?

    Ethical is only when convenient.

  3. The ethical tourist should boycott the Maldives tourism industry at the moment.

    Maldives is advertised as a romantic destination consisting of beautiful beaches, fantastic diving and a completely laid back life style; a place where one can relax and have an experience of a life time. Physically Maldives is all these things, but the ethical traveller must also be aware that there is another very dark side to this beautiful country. The ‘sunny side of life’ has become a living hell for a number of people of Maldivians since February 7th, 2012.

    The general argument used is that the riches earned by the tourism industry would trickle down and improve the lot of the ordinary Maldivians. But this is not the case here. In fact the coup that destroyed the first democratic government was bankrolled by a number of resort owners who did not wish to share their monopoly of the economy with the average Maldivians. Yes, they want Maldivians to work in their industry, but only as long as they can trample other initiatives such as guest-house tourism that can bring the more ethical tourists to islands where the money, expertise and the development are needed.

    The case that Avaaz highlighted also shows the failure of the present coup government to fully understand how societies should behave in a social and global context. If the government of this country wants to be part of the huge global tourist industry, then thy have to learn to behave like adult participants of the global village. Making little sounds to appease critics and avoiding the real issue is not enough. They can’t have it both ways.

    The question should not be whether to boycott or not to boycott. The question should be whether an ethical tourist should consider the Maldives as a destination at all at the moment.

  4. I remember a group of travellers asking for ban of a traditional bull racing festival in Tamil Nadu state of India. They said it was so depressing to see bulls harmed while being forced to run. The funny part was that many of those travellers were Spanish - home of bull fighting. Enough said.

  5. This is called tourism slavery!! And that also for a verdict which has been appealed by the govt!??

    Why don't the tourists boycott all the pornography, violent games and movies which lead to people becoming violent and abusive? Isn't that what the EU is trying to do? Or maybe boycott countries which has history of mass shootings because of it's love for guns!?

    Why don't they boycott the US and China at large because they are the ones polluting the world and endangering our little islands? They hesitate to cast a vote when it comes to reducing pollution!

    This would have never happened to Maldives if it had risen on it's own feet without being lazy and too much leaning!

  6. I’d rather sojourn in angry beehives
    Than holiday in the palmy Maldives
    Where, when a girl is raped, she gets the whip
    As the dogs of a bonehead state let rip.

  7. Militant travel-boycotters, militant democrats, militant evolutionist atheists, militant liberals, militant homosexuals --[versus]-- militant Islam and militant Christianity in general, or organized religions as a whole. This is the clash of the 'modern' age..

    Nobody can claim an immaculate pedestal you see.. It's all about a point of view..No?.. Nothing, and I mean nothing has been absolutely proved as right or wrong still.. In fact today we are not even sure whether what is observable is even real or not (in the universe I mean), let alone right or wrong!

    For instance consider Phenomenalism, Subjective Idealism, Nihilism, the Omega Point, the Designer Multiverse theory, the Simulation hypothesis, and Biological-SETI etc.. all of these are also relevant to the idea of flogging, children or otherwise I think (imho)..

    In Japan 13 or 14 is the age for consent I think, in Singapore canning is legal and practiced, in much of the United States corporal punishment at home is constitutionally legal (so on and so forth). I have read similarly on some comments here also. In Europe incest is not outlawed. Meanwhile in the same Europe, an EU wide ban on porn is about to take effect at the same time... I mean what ever happened to the right to "express" (ie thus enact) nudity and/or coital positions? So age old 'prohibitions' are coming back then. A real bummer..

    This is why it is important to have an open mind always- things change. Maybe once Asia rises as a superpower, the Chinese will say flogging is necessary (again I'm not condoning anything).. Then world media then owned by them, would agee. A world-uniform would also naturally and 'somehow' follow.. We would then find its own militant proponents. Sometimes the Canadians, the Scandinavian's, and whatnot, and therefore an Amnesty and a lopsided UN is also too sure of things.. Just like the Islamic Sharia is too certain... (tsk tsk)..

    We all seem to have a view or narrative that we all seem to be seeking to 'push' forward without recourse to discourse, this can be called militancy? Who defines ethics anyway (just a thought). You? Me? God cannot define ethics (we don't know whether he exists or not), but are we, everyday humans qualified to define it as well? And is there not constant disagreement on what is ethical, and what is not anyway? Has the majority of the world agreed on these things?.. I doubt it..

    I do not believe a conclusion has been reached. Therefore we may push forward a view, but perhaps we cannot put such certain and pompous, righteous claim over our view- above the others. Let us respect then, but let us not hesitate to disagree either (it is a disagreement yes, but maybe nothing more).. None of us have that great a moral clarity. Not that absolute..

    There is no place for such "over the top" outrage, there needs to be a balance. For one thing the flogging in Maldives is just symbolic, and it will take place once she's eighteen. I have read this on other newsworthy places. Not that I condone it, I am not taking any sides here (lets try that for a change). Let us say we disagree whether flogging as a form of punishment is wrong or not, but that's all- we 'disagree'.. Neither side has a 'perfect' argument you know. We all wish to pretend this is the case though. This is the real problem..

    It's all about forwarding an -AGENDA- I think... to be rid of religion as soon as possible for example (all organized religions I mean)? No even considering there might be something in all this ancient 'gibberish'. You know let's hold on, lets be scientific, lets say we are not absolutely certain yet (about anything!). More proof has to, or is yet to emerge indicating a tipping of the balance in either's favour. Sure we haven't proved God exists, but have we also empirically proved there is NO God? I believe all these questions are relevant to the issue of flogging even..

    I myself am an atheist, but I do not wish to jump to conclusions yet, here or anywhere (correction, I am a non-militant atheist). And besides has anyone heard of Nick Bostrom's recent Simulation Hypothesis?? There seem to be a lot of ID-atheists these days as well. The Universe does not appear to be real, and in this "simulation universe" some people are clearly being flogged (even if according to this theory it is not real!)! Let us connect these two areas of human thought, science and flogging if you will, just for a moment..This hypothesis appears to postulate we do not have control of our actions, our environment (The Simulator behind the universe obviously has control, not those 'in' the simulation).

    Lets extrapolate, or jump right to it then, if you will..So we hear of, or see some fellow humans being flogged, this means the Simulator, whoever he is, is making us do these things right??? (or not, both are equally likely). Also according to Bostrom himself, he gives a personal 20 percent chance we are all in a simulation. If so, then lets hold on, let's calm down- lets analyze (keke). Lets try to understand what this all means. What role do we have to play here? As an atheist I must ask myself now, does the Simulator want me to stop the flogging?..

    Recent findings regarding 'Bioliogical SETI' also does seem to indicate the Life Program may not have been an accident (very different from Biblical notions though, even Koranic maybe, I dunno)..

    It hypothesizes that an intelligent signal embedded in our genetic code would be a mathematical and semantic message that cannot be accounted for by Darwinian evolution. And the have found it! ( so this poses the question of what actual control do we have of our own selves, our environment- because it does indicate we did not appear as a chance event after all.. In this context we might need to try and understand why some wish to flog as a punishment, I think (humour me okay)..

    Again I'm not condoning it (not necessarily), not at all- not necessarily- and not in the least.. personally I'd rather not rush these things that's all. I would rather take this in the context of global other many, many other problems as well. Not as the first and only last thing in the world (not necessarily).. I myself have served time in an Aussy jail for possessing something, I don't agree with my 'detention', I disagree in fact that me 'possessing' this was ever wrong. And yeah, I was 'mistreated' in jail.. I don't agree with that either.

    I do however try to understand what must be the consequences for my actions sometimes, and whether a God OR Man has any say in it... If I murder someone I will be jailed definitely (but does that mean it is wrong to murder?? not necessarily I think, it is a point of view right? majority consensus or not)..Maybe I have a right to do anything I want, certainly the universe (or the Simulator) is not holding me to account?! You say society must take account? Well who decided that? you? What if I disagree?... Maybe society doesn't have a right to stop me from doing 'anything'. Let alone 'punish' me..

    And again the portrayal of stories, news and events by militant mainstream media always distorts (whatever sells the news man!). When we hear such 'news' we must always take these things in stride, before panicking (panic once you have ALL the information okay). This is something one gets used to, especially if your living in the developed world. Some don't though, some are aching, stop cutting tree's, stop killing dolphin's, stop flogging (lol).. blah, blah..

    The Caucasian is besides always eager to discipline us, to teach us, to 'right' us- never the other way round. They are just trying to play their role as the 'global leaders' the most 'perfect' way they can (lol). They clearly overdo it. We follow their verdicts on all issues thus (we are following their lead here, and everywhere aren't we?). Besides it's always easier to find evil in others than in ourselves. Such hypocrisy, I myself find it shameful sometimes..

    Again I am not condoning the lashing of anything or anyone. I am not condemning either, maybe (I'm considering whether to NOT condemn it though, just to make a point). The noise from one side is too much here, but I believe there are many Equally valid points of view to Everything (and contrasting as well). In the words of Nick Bostrom the famous Swedish philosopher, who by the way is behind the Simulation Argument- 'Everything matters: big, small, everything. No matter what you do there will always be a reason why, and something will always come of it'...

    This is definitely one context I think. There are and there will also be other facets to this story also no doubt (that is being very well said by others here)..

  8. Shimy, Maldivians will contaminate their own islands with sewage and trash, making them unsuitable for living long before global warming starts to pose an immediate threat.

    I don't want to hear any complaints about pollution from a Maldivian. You don't recycle, burn diesel for electricity, have absolutely no interest in sustainable energy sources, throw rubbish anywhere you like and let raw sewage flow into the sea. Take care of those issues first. Then you can criticize other countries for doing the same thing.

  9. as all maldivians are muslims we have our own right to live islam. and if the world is against that dont come here for vacations, but if you call yourself friends of maldives and call to boycott maldives tourism because we "live islam", then you are not friends of maldives and you are trying to make maldives a non islamic country which is obvious and so are the maldivians who are calling to boycott.
    and speaking of islamic sharia in maldives, you say you ll not come to maldives because islamic shariah is against human rights, what have you done for the people of burma, syria, gaza for their human rights?


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