Travel Ethics

As travellers today we might think of ourselves as roving ambassadors, enriching ourselves and the world with cross-cultural experiences as we traverse the globe. But do we have a responsibility to think about where we spend our tourist dollar, and to think about who we might be hurting or helping? 

This has never been more pertinent for LGBTI travelers as the gulf between equality and discrimination becomes more glaring in countries across the world.  

Here’s a list of countries where homosexuality or homosexual acts are forbidden and punishable by law: 

Algeria, Antigua & Barbuda, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bhutan, Botswana, Brunei, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Cook Islands, Dominica, Egypt, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guinea, Guyana, Iran, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Myanmar, Namibia, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and The Grenadines, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Togo, Tonga, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, UAE, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe 

There’s quite a few countries here that I’ve been to and plenty more that I’d like to visit. Sure, Eswatini was never high on my bucket list (btw it’s the new name of Swaziland, and yes I had to Google that), but a lot of those countries are highly desirable tropical paradises. You’d think they’d be more chill! Why would a Maldivian policeman bother to get out of his hammock to arrest Faisal and Abdul for having a quickie in their fishing dhoni?

And Bhutan… wtf??? This tiny Himalayan Kingdom that measures Gross National Happiness instead of GDP (they pretty much don’t have any GDP) may not be nirvana for their gay citizenry facing up to a year in jail just for being themselves. 

So what’s your rule when it comes to visiting countries that make same sex relations a crime? Should we boycott all such countries? Or just those that actively enforce those laws? Many countries turn a blind eye to their archaic anti-gay laws (possibly in a cynical pursuit of tourist dollars), and hey, it can be hard to avoid Singapore and Malaysia for an Australian who regularly travels internationally. 

For me, Brunei’s recent toughening of anti-LGBTI laws – death by stoning no less! – are just a bridge too far. I won’t be travelling to this sultanate anytime soon, nor flying on the national carrier Royal Brunei Airlines, or lining the king’s pockets by staying at any of his hotels! 

And should we use our tourist dollars to vote against Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women, China’s human rights violations and annexation of Tibet, cultures that practice female circumcision, Japan for whaling, the otherwise charming Danes for their senseless slaughter of dolphins, the USA for building a wall against Mexico??? 

And what about our own backyard? How should foreign tourists respond to Australia’s treatment of refugees, our record with our own first peoples, the racist attitudes of many of our politicians,  and hey we only just got marriage equality after being dragged into the developed world, and what a shit fight that was! 

Maybe Muslim Brunei should have boycotted Australia when Pauline Hanson wore a burqa to parliament. 

So should we stay home waving an indignant fist at our computer screens, or do we go forth into the world and hope that in some small way our tourist diaspora will spread seeds of tolerance and understanding? 

No right or wrong answers here – everyone will have their own travel deal-breakers – but plenty of questions to ask ourselves when booking our next trip.