Travelling isn’t an ethics-free zone. The places we visit are imbued with political and social meaning. Tourism in repressive states should be carefully navigated to avoid giving support to the regime (as much as possible).
Sri Lanka, still in the grip of a political culture that refuses to acknowledge its massacre of Tamils and ongoing oppression of the minority, is a perfect example. I’ve covered here the countless stories in the New York Times travel section that simply ignores any human rights issues on the island and encourages Americans to visit post-war.
Now yet another piece in the Times, this time by Paul Theroux, continues this inglorious tradition:
Just a few years ago Sri Lanka emerged from a civil war, but even as the Tamil north was embattled and fighting a rear-guard action, there were tourists sunning themselves on the southern coast and touring the Buddhist stupas in Kandy. Now the war is over, and Sri Lanka can claim to be peaceful, except for the crowing of its government over the vanquishing of the Tamils. Tourists have returned in even greater numbers for the serenity and the small population. (Amazingly enough, almost the same number of people live in the Indian city of greater Mumbai than occupy the whole of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.)
At one point Sri Lanka was on the Could Be Your Last Trip list of the traveler Robert Young Pelton.