Cast your mind back a few years. There was a country controlled by a junta where the democratically elected leader was effectively under house arrest; where politicians were detained with little (if any) access to friends and family; where journalists were detained and/or told “to cheer on” the junta; where there was a nationwide curfew; where public gatherings of more than five people were banned; where the internet was censored; where there were ongoing “issues” with minority groups.
Sounds a lot like Burma to me.
Sadly, today, the above pretty accurately describes Thailand, though at least in Thailand’s case the ousted prime minister has not (yet) called for a tourism boycott.
Is it time for a Thailand tourism boycott?
Tourism boycotts are controversial: Do they really hurt the people and the organisations — that need to be hurt? Or do they primarily hurt the small players — family-run businesses who have naught to do with the political situation?
We subscribed to the Burmese boycott, putting off visiting there for 20 years. And while we believe there remain significant issues regarding travelling to Burma, we have to say we’d never imagined that we might one day be considering levying the same approach to Thailand.
Sure, we’re yet to see slave labour being used to build infrastructure in Thailand but it is ongoing in the fisheries industry. Over the years, there have been massacres against the Muslim minority in the far south and the infamous “war on drugs” — but both took place under affiliated predecessors for the now ousted elected government.
Here at Travelfish, we’ve been writing about — and encouraging travellers to visit — Thailand for almost a decade (we turn 10 in July). While the country has had its ups and downs, the last few days really feel like it’s reaching a new nadir. We’ve suggested repeatedly that those with plans for a trip to Thailand should keep them in place and only those who are particularly cautious should consider alternatives while now putting plans in place.
But how about those who are not so much concerned about safety, but rather the ethics of visiting a country which has leaders who feel it is reasonable to behave the way they are: to cow the press, to detain anybody for up to seven days without warrant? How much further should the country move towards authoritarian rule before a boycott becomes a reasonable response?
With neighbours like Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia, you could certainly suggest Thailand’s just keeping up with the Joneses — none of its neighbours are bastions of human rights, political freedom or freedom of speech. But really that just makes these recent developments all the more distressing.
It’s true that the vast majority of the country, save the curfew, remains largely unaffected by recent developments. The protests have (largely) disappeared from the streets and people (excepting all-night bar owners!) are able to go about their business. But back in HQ the junta has been busying themselves rounding up and often detaining without charge politicians, journalists and business owners. Who will they be coming for next?
Are we calling for a boycott? No. It is early days — the coup is less than a week old — but we strongly feel that Thailand is veering very badly in the wrong direction. Travellers concerned with the ethical issues of where they visit, should be watching closely.
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 28th May, 2014.