Where Wouldn’t You Visit in the World?

by Ellie Cleary

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Would you Go To Zimbabwe?

Last week it was announced that TBEX – one of the largest conventions for Travel Bloggers and Travel Brands, attracting around 500 attendees per pop, would be hosting their 2018 International Conference in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Yep, Zimbabwe.

The announcement has needless to say raised more than a few heckles within the travel world, and many a debate amongst travel bloggers. The question being: would you go? Why?

Earlier this year I wrote about the places I can’t-not-visit this year. Now, I want to talk about the countries we should leave off our lists.

Reading through a chat in one of my favourite facebook bloggers groups, Travel Blog Success, this morning, it became clear to me that the discussion is about far more than visiting Zimbabwe.

It’s a discussion, ultimately, about the impact of tourism. It’s a discussion about whether we should visit countries with corrupt regimes. It’s a discussion about which countries we wouldn’t visit.

countries i wouldn't visit - soul travel blog

The Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Tempting? Image via Flickr / Julien Lagarde

Exposing the Double Standard.

Essentially, the arguments for and against visiting Zimbabwe fall into two camps. On the one hand, those not wanting to visit because they would not want to support Mugabe’s dictatorial regime which has seen the genocide of tens of thousands of people and land seizures from white farmers in the country. On the other hand people wanting to visit (although not necessarily as part of TBEX, which i’ll come to later) – from the belief that a country is its people, not its government.

But the arguments have also thrown up the huge double standard which I believe many of us (myself included) are used to operating under.

The thing is, I am from a country which is the Second Largest Arms Dealer in the World. A country whose decision to partition India (after centuries of subjection to colonial rule) in 1947 directly caused the displacement of 14 million people. Yet London is one of the most visited cities in the world.

Returning to Zimbabwe, neighbouring South Africa’s political situation and integrity of government is far-from-perfect, and yet South Africa receives over 10 million tourists every year. Thailand has long been criticised for its mistreatment of ethnic minorities (such as the Karen people), abuse of migrant workers, ignorance of animal exploitation in tourism and lack of any balanced judicial system. Yet we all flock there in our droves for sun, sea and cheap street food.

We seem to have decided that these are all “acceptable” places to go. On the other hand, mention that you’re travelling to Iran, Russia, or even (god forbid) North Korea, and you’ll find yourself met with raised eyebrows, expressions of concern, and not a little bit of judgement. Where I come from at least.

The countries i wouldn't visit

The DMZ, North Korea – Image Flickr  

Does Tourism Cause Harm or Good? 

In my view, the question comes down to this.

Is tourism a force for good in this world? Or does tourism just help corrupt and unethical governments stay in power?

Of course the answer to that question depends on how “tourism” is done.

It ultimately depends on how we spend our money.

Life in the slow lane, Myanmar – Image Flickr / PM Loeff

One of the reasons Lonely Planet, and others cautioned against travel to Myanmar/Burma before 2012, was the fact that it was virtually impossible to travel to Myanmar without directly supporting the military regime – they owned most of the hotels, restaurants and tour companies, not to mention the direct visa and guide fees. When I went in 2013, part of my money certainly went to the government (visa fees), but I also know that a lot of it went to local restaurants, craft shops, markets, hotels, and in short to local people.

Today the Myanmar government is still persecuting Muslims (the Rohingya people) in the west of country in a barbaric way, but travel to Myanmar is arguably more possible in a way that a) does not support the government as much and b) recognises that most people you’ll meet in Myanmar are some of the kindest and friendliest souls you’ll come across.

On the other hand, going anywhere (regardless of political problems) and staying in an all inclusive resort without leaving it for 1-2 weeks benefits hardly anyone. Except for the already rich developer who just destroyed a spot of beach/forest so he could make some more money, and the usually international hotel chain that operates it.

Because in my view, what decides on whether tourism causes harm or good, is the amount of positive interaction we can have with a country’s people (rather than its government), and the amount of money we spend that directly reaches a country’s people rather than large, international companies.

We’re at a time where we really really need more tourism in the world. Not the type of all inclusive lounging tourism, but the type of tourism where we get out of our comfort zones, meet people from different cultures on our travels, learn a few words of a different language, or a bit about a new religion.

Because in today’s world we really need to start understanding one another better. And tourism can be an amazing force for that. 

the countries I wouldn't visit

At a market in Myanmar in 2013

It’s Hard to be Perfect

“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it” ~ Dali

What matters, is awareness of the bigger picture, the impact of our choices, and making conscious travel decisions.

I don’t have anywhere I regret visiting as such, but I do know that I’ve visited a lot of places that can be questioned on various grounds. Thailand is just the start of it. I’ve been a frequent visitor to Dubai – a place openly attacked for its abuse of migrant workers in the construction industry and cultural destruction, and I also visited the Philippines for TBEX in 2016.

I don’t regret visiting any of these places, but I was hosted for 3 days by the Philippines tourism board during my trip there, the ministry of tourism being part of the Philippines government of course. And we know what their record has been of late. In hindsight I would have travelled the Philippines 100% independently, instead of being part of TBEX.

Countries I wouldn't Visit

It’s not all pretty in the Philippines – kids jumping into the polluted Pasig river in Manila.

A Duty of Bloggers and Journalists

I do believe that as bloggers and travel journalists that we have a duty to not only tell things as they are, but to openly acknowledge and discuss about the ethics of visiting countries. From the UAE to the UK to Zimbabwe and Russia, we should openly discuss the impact of tourism and our visiting there.

The Countries I Wouldn’t Visit

I will not be going to Zimbabwe for TBEX. But that’s not because I’m against going to Zimbabwe per se, if the right type of travel (i.e. independent travel) was possible. It’s rather because TBEX is being sponsored by the Zimbabwean tourism Board, part of the Zimbabwean government.

Ultimately, whether it is right to visit a country or not has to be an individual decision.

There are some other countries I wouldn’t visit: those that are active war zones. I’ve read about a couple of attempts of bloggers to go to Syria in recent months, and honestly? I don’t agree with that. Countries that are ravaged by war don’t need tourists, they need peace.

Once peace has settled, then tourism can play a part in rebuilding the rubble of their economies and spirit.

What do you think about travelling to countries with less than democratic governments? Are the certain places you will not go? What do you think about going to Zimbabwe? Let me know in the comments below! 

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11 comments

Kirsty May 9, 2017 - 2:23 am

I love all these points. The main reason we take our children travelling is that we hope it creates more tolerance and understanding for their future. Watching our children interact with the locals in a place is always some of the most memorable moments of our journeys.I think tourism can do so much good when done correctly but as I’m sure you have seen for yourself it can suck the character out of a destination. As for countries such as Zimbabwe, maybe as a mother I look at things differently but I don’t think I would travel with them at the ages they are now. Perhaps when they are older and can understand more. I think that anyplace we travel ( and even at home in Australia for that matter ), it is important to use family run businesses and buy as local as we can.

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Ellie May 9, 2017 - 6:19 pm

Thanks Kirsty for your comment – it sounds like you are giving your children a wonderful experience and education in the world through your travels. It sounds like your kids will learn far more about the goodness of the world through their interactions in local travel experiences than they would in a classroom for sure! One of the things I know I’ve learnt so far is that supporting local initiatives really counts for so much. Happy travels and keep up the great work, Ellie

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Ben and Amrita May 9, 2017 - 8:06 am

This is a great piece. It is a vast and nuanced topic. Thanks for opening up a really important discussion on the ethical dilemmas of travel. Enjoyed reading it!

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Ellie May 9, 2017 - 6:16 pm

Thanks Ben and Amrita, i’m so glad you found it opened up an important discussion! I know many steer clear of discussing politics with travel, but personally I feel the two topics can’t be separated and we have to be aware of political environments and what we choose to support when we travel. Thanks for the kind words and for stopping by! Ellie

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Sara - I do what I want to May 10, 2017 - 2:19 am

Like you said, it really depends on how you travel. I wouldn’t say no to any trips in general but I wouldn’t go to country facing war as a tourist, it is not what they need and it’s putting yourself in a dangerous position. I advocate for countries that are not necessarily well seen by the media (such as Iran which we visited last year) discovering the world by yourself its amazing! And if I (we) choose to avoid certain countries for political reasons I think we could explain our reasons but not judge others for going to certain places. Thanks for the piece.

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Ellie May 11, 2017 - 3:02 pm

hi Sara, I think your last point is a really great one ” if we choose to avoid certain countries.. we could explain our reasons but not judge others” – yes, definitely. The world is a complicated place and there often aren’t easy answers. I’m glad you had a wonderful experience in Iran, I have heard so many wonderful things from travellers about that country. I hope to make it there later this year. All the best and happy travels, Ellie

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Cherene Saradar May 18, 2017 - 6:35 pm

I loved this piece. I struggle with this issue and I don’t have all the answers. I agree with your point. I recently visited Myanmar and really was torn about it. Finding way to spend money that doesn’t support the government isn’t clear cut all the time! I hope to have more discussions about this topic!

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Ellie May 23, 2017 - 2:24 pm

Hey Cherene, Thanks for your comment. Yes you’re right – the trouble is these things are rarely clear! And also I think, why this topic will always remain a discussion. What worries me most is the impact of tourism sometimes on countries (like Myanmar, or Cuba for instance) that have been closed off for a long time and then suddenly opened. Personally, I hope that sensitivity amongst all travellers continues to spread and that more become aware of the differences between cultures and the impacts of our choices as tourists :-).

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Shivya July 9, 2017 - 7:58 pm

Best thing I’ve read today! Thanks for such a balanced perspective; the question often plagues me, but I agree with you, it’s not where we travel but how we travel.

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Ellie July 24, 2017 - 8:46 am

Thanks Shivya for the compliment! We have it in our hands to make a difference! 🙂

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Amanda July 17, 2017 - 5:43 pm

As you said what the world needs right now is the type of tourism that brings a greater understanding between us around the world. What Zimbabwe doesn’t need is more support for an already corrupt regime. Interestingly I wonder how they’ve got around the visa requirements for the press/bloggers at this conference? This is the advice from the UK

“Anyone intending to carry out journalistic activity must arrange prior accreditation through the Zimbabwean Embassy in London. Journalists should not carry out any reporting or official photography without the proper accreditation as there is a risk of arrest, detention in difficult conditions, a fine and deportation. The Zimbabwean government has made clear that they will penalise any journalists found to be working in Zimbabwe without accreditation.

The Zimbabwe Government uses a broad definition of journalism. This may include any form of interview, filming or photography. You should also carefully consider risks associated with engaging in social media activities such as posting comments, blogging or sharing photographs, which could be construed as journalism.”

Needless to say, I won’t be going either! 🙂

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