Ever since the end of the country’s civil war in 2009, Colombo has promoted tourism as a way to normalise the place. The Western media has blindly followed.
But Sri Lanka isn’t a normal state; it remains authoritarian. I’m proud that the UK-based Sri Lanka Campaign, where I’m an advisor and have pushed for this action for years, has just launched a new campaign for ethnical tourism. Bravo:
It is a great pleasure to launch our #ThinkAgain campaign on ethical tourism in Sri Lanka.
Many people go on holiday to Sri Lanka without realising that as recently as three years ago tens of thousands of civilians were slaughtered there, in the closing stages of the civil war; that the north of the country remains under military occupation; that its people are still traumatized, many of them disabled or otherwise prevented from earning their living; and that people in any part of the island who fall foul of the government are liable to be kidnapped, beaten and often killed. Our campaign is designed to help tourists make informed choices, so that they spend their money in ways that help reconstruction and rehabilitation rather than lining the pockets of criminals.
As we say, tourism can bring positive benefits to a country, and we are not suggesting that these be denied to a population already suffering under an oppressive regime. Often the challenge is making sure your holiday spending really does go to help local communities – in Sri Lanka there is the additional problem that it may profit known or alleged human rights abusers. The most important thing is to make an informed choice.
And that’s what our campaign seeks to do – give advice on ethical tourism and warn against those that do not help Sri Lankans achieve lasting peace. We name and shame five hotels, four airlines, and four attractions that have links to the military as well as highlighting concerns surrounding three major hotel chains. We further name and shame twelve international tour operators that use these businesses, including Virgin, STA Travel and Thomas Cook.