Planet's Burma guide 'unethical'

The TUC has called for a boycott of Lonely Planet guidebooks until the Burma edition is withdrawn from sale.

The trade union umbrella organisation says travel to Burma is unethical and helps prop up the military government.

Last year, Lonely Planet was bought by BBC Worldwide Limited, the commercial arm of the Corporation.

In a statement, the BBC said the guide book - one of 288 published by Lonely Planet - "provides information and lets readers decide for themselves".

The TUC, Tourism Concern, Burma Campaign UK and the New Internationalist have launched an online petition calling for the immediate withdrawal of the book.

New Internationalist co-editor, Chris Brazier, said: "Holidaying in Burma is one of the most unethical trips you could make, given the brutality of the current regime.

"The Lonely Planet guide to Burma should be immediately withdrawn."

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber added: "The very existence of a travel guide to Burma encourages people to visit a country they might not otherwise consider."

But BBC Worldwide said the guide "provides information to help travellers make informed decisions about whether or not to visit Burma and, should they decide to go, make informed choices on what they do when in the country.

"Lonely Planet believes that its decision to publish a guide book to Burma does not of itself represent support or otherwise for the current regime.

BBC Worldwide says it has "carefully reviewed that position and has no plans to withdraw the guide".

"It provides information and lets readers decide for themselves."

The pros and cons of travel to Burma are set out at the front of its guidebook:

It's 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

Insight Guides is the other main publisher with a guidebook on Burma.

It has postponed its latest edition in the light of September's violence, when pro-democracy demonstrations were violently suppressed.

Rough Guides does not have a guide to the country. In a statement, its co-founder, Martin Dunford, said: "We don't like to take moral stances when it comes to travel.

"But there are some regimes that are so oppressive that travelling there just feels wrong.

"Indeed so much of Burma's tourist infrastructure is linked to the military government that we feel tourism can't help but support the regime, however indirectly.

"We are also mindful of - and respect - Ang San Suu Kyi and the democratic opposition's call for tourists to boycott the country as a way of bringing about change, but understand that it is a personal choice for individual travellers to make."

Lonely Planet has also issued a travel advisory in the wake of the crackdown on protests led by Buddhist monks.

It urges travellers to exercise "extreme caution".

The TUC's international secretary, Owen Tudor, said Lonely Planet was being singled out because "The country's main trade union organisation and the people of Burma oppose tourism."

He denied the Lonely Planet boycott should also apply to guide books on Cuba, Saudi Arabia or other governments around the world with poor human rights records.

"Disinvestment campaigns have worked in the past, dissuading companies from dealing with Burma," he said.

"BBC Worldwide is one of 28 UK companies who have dealings with Burma and 17 of them are travel companies."

The Independent newspaper's travel editor, Simon Calder, has condemned the boycott.

He said: "It seems bizarre that there should be calls for a boycott of a travel publishing brand that has a first-class record on championing human rights and, incidentally, urging readers to be environmentally and culturally aware travellers."

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