Stop buying Lonely Planet books until BBC withdraws Burma edition

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date: 19 February 2008

embargo: 00.01hrs Thursday 21 February 2008

People are being urged to stop buying the Lonely Planet guidebooks until BBC Worldwide - the current owner of the travel series - withdraws its guide to Burma. The call comes today (Thursday) as the TUC, Tourism Concern, Burma Campaign UK and the New Internationalist launch an online petition calling on the immediate withdrawal of the Burma edition.

The petition, available online at www.thepetitionsite.com/1/Burma-Campaign-Action says that the availability of the Lonely Planet guide to Burma encourages tourists to visit the country, and gives people the impression that such travel can be done in an ethical manner.

The four organisations believe that the Lonely Planet guide helps give legitimacy to the brutal regime, as do the tourists who use it to visit Burma. The online petition highlights the link between mass human rights abuses and the tourism industry in Burma, reminding people that over a million Burmese people have been forcibly removed from their homes to make way for new tourism developments.

Both the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Burmese unions have appealed to tourists of the world not to visit the country while the current military dictatorship remains in power.

Visitors to Burma are helping sustain the military junta by giving it much-needed foreign currency, says the online petition. It says that it is virtually impossible to visit Burma without handing over cash, as visa fees, airport duties and currency change are all unavoidable outlays for tourists.

Late last year when BBC Worldwide bought the Lonely Planet guides, the TUC and Tourism Concern wrote to the company asking it to withdraw its Burma guide immediately. The petition says that the BBC Worldwide's refusal to remove the book is in direct contradiction of the BBC's own CSR statement, which acknowledges the corporation's responsibility 'for both the impact of our output and how we run our business.'

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'The very existence of a travel guide to Burma encourages people to visit a country they might not otherwise consider. We want to see the travel industry drop Burma from their list of destinations and taking the Lonely Planet guidebook off the shelves would help enormously. If enough people sign our petition and stop buying Lonely Planet guides, we hope we can encourage the BBC to think again.'

Tricia Barnett of Tourism Concern said: 'Given the appalling human rights situation in Burma, we don't believe it is possible for any company, including BBC Worldwide, to adopt a neutral position on the issue of travel to the country, as it is apparently seeking to do with its Lonely Planet guidebook. The BBC should stop sitting on the fence and send a clear message of condemnation to the regime by withdrawing the Burma edition of its book.'

New Internationalist co-editor Chris Brazier said: 'The latest issue of New Internationalist has a special focus on ethical travel. 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.'

NOTES TO EDITORS:

- Tourism Concern is an independent, non-industry, UK charity and membership organisation that fights exploitation through tourism (registered charity no. 1064020). Tourism Concern aims to change the way that tourism is traded and developed through collaborative work with industry, government, development and human rights NGOs by supporting marginalised voices.

- New Internationalist Publications is an independent not-for-profit communications co-operative. Its multi-award winning magazine, New Internationalist, brings to life the people, the ideas and the action in the fight for global justice www.newint.org

- Burma and Tourism: Facts and Figures

1.1 billion: US dollars invested in the tourism industry in Burma since it opened up to tourism in 1988.

100 million: US dollars earned annually by Burma through tourism.

56.7 million: current population of Burma (IMF 2007), 75 per cent of which earn a living through agriculture. Of the remaining 25 per cent, just a small proportion benefit from tourism.

8 million: number of men, women and children conscripted as forced labour, often for the development of tourism infrastructure, by the military regime since it seized power during a coup in 1962. This is often imposed under threat of beatings, torture, rape or murder.

1 million: number of people displaced under the current regime to make way for tourism developments, often with just a few hours notice and little or no compensation for the loss of their homes and businesses.

1,300: number of political prisoners thought to be currently held by the military regime. This may include people who have expressed dissent at being displaced to make way for, or conscripted to help build, tourism developments.

650: acres of rice paddy recently converted into a golf course for tourists by a western company.

60: percentage of Burmese people earning less than 60 pence a day.

40: percentage of national budget spent on the military. Just 19 pence is spent per person on health by the regime annually.

15: number of UK tour operators continuing to promote tourism to Burma.

12: percentage of income cited by Burma's Minister of Hotels and Tourism in 2002 as being received by the Government from tourism services, including private businesses.

12: number of years democratically elected leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, had been under house arrest in Rangoon as of 24 October 2007. The Nobel Peace Prize winner and her National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory at the elections in 1990 but the military have always refused to relinquish power.

1: number of democratic elections held in Burma in over 42 years.

Contacts:

Media enquiries: Tourism Concern: Rachel Noble T: 020 7133 3330 or M: 07885 707 848

E: rachel@tourismconcern.org.uk

TUC : Liz Chinchen T: 020 7467 1248 M: 07778 158175 E: media@tuc.org.uk

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