Should You Travel To Burma? An Ethical Debate

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A recent article has brought up a question that most seasoned travelers end up asking themselves: Is travel sometimes bad?

Some may say that it drives the economy in countries or cities that have seen their resources depleted, no longer able to provide for the ever-increasing mouths, bodies and minds to feed. Some people believe that tourism provides a sharing of experiences not only by learning from the host culture but exposing a traveler’s ideals as well.

However, there are also some who believe tourism can have a negative impact on the host culture’s infrastructure. With tourism comes gentrification of industry which means that McDonald’s, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Best Western and Hilton begin to overtake local businesses. With tourism, especially in developing countries, the sex trade increases along with other introductory perversions to an established culture.

In the case of Burma, some suggest — like the above article — that travelers are discouraged from visiting the country in order to prevent more money falling into the hands of a corrupt government/dictatorship. The problem is, who really suffers?

As the article points out, the locals suffer because many rely on outsiders for money for living — food, water, shelter, and education.

Herein lies the proverbial Chinese finger puzzle: If you travel to Burma, a couple of families will get to have these basic essentials in the short term while, simultaneously, the dictatorship is perpetuated with every dollar spent on traveling around the country.

However, I would like to argue that, much like the puzzle, one shouldn’t pull too hard on either direction. In general, people should try to avoid, to the best of their abilities, making purchases at big-box stores or staying in multinational hotel chains.

Of course there are some luxuries that are only provided for by multinational corporations (MNC’s), but as a traveler, it is our obligation to be aware of our impact, not only on a monetary level, but on a cultural level as well. If you have the choice between a processed burger from the King or a homemade sandwich from a local vendor, in the unforgettable words of the knight in “The Last Crusade,” choose wisely.

Personally, as a traveler who will continue to travel, I think tourism can have a positive impact if each person is more conscious of his or her influence on the cultural environment he or she visits. It doesn’t have to be an ethical tug-of-war. Perhaps, if enlightened tourists flocked to Burma, the existing corruption would gain further exposure, thus, creating international pressure to address some fundamental political rights. It could loosen the tension between “want” and “ought” and, like the Chinese finger puzzle, the dilemma might slip right off.

By Brit Weaver


About the Author

Toronto born and based, Brit is an avid leisure cyclist, coffee drinker and under-a-tree park-ist. She often finds herself meandering foreign cities looking for street eats to nibble, trees to climb, a patch of grass to sit on, or a small bookstore to sift through. You can find her musing life on her personal blog,

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