September 17, 2014

Why Travel Boycotts Are NOT Unethical

Recently I came across a travel blog post which made the argument that it is unethical to boycott travel to a country.  For any reason.  Here is the progression of the author's argument:

1.  Travel boycotts hurt the locals more than the government you're boycotting.
2.  The tourism industry is unlikely to wield enough power to incite change in their government.
3.  So therefore, when you travel to a country with which you may have ideological disparities or which you can't condone at all, consider the fact that your travel monies are supporting the "innocent people" of the country who would otherwise be unemployed without your tourism.*


At first, I could see the author's point.  Well, sort of.  Calls for boycotting certain companies over social issues is not uncommon here in the United States, but are they really effective?  Against large corporations, probably not, unless you're able to engage in an intense public relations attack simultaneously.  Against a smaller, local business (or in comparison, a smaller country) a boycott or the mere threat of one could potentially be more damaging and result in changes made in regards to the issue you're challenging.

But whether boycotts are successful or not is irrelevant.  The article wasn't about effectiveness, but about ethics.  The author charged that "it is unethical to participate in a travel boycott. Plain and simple."

It takes a certain level of naivete or arrogance to claim that all travel boycotts are unethical.  Here's why I think the author's position is wrong:

1.  Personal Safety
As an American Christian woman, there are just certain places, or entire countries for that matter, which would be dangerous for me to visit.  Some are more dangerous than others, of course, and even in the most civilized of countries you can become a victim.  However, I can understand and support those who choose to boycott entire localities or countries.  Why would a Christian want to vacation in a country where they imprison, torture and kill Christians?  Are you going to call a gay man "unethical" because he boycotts traveling to a country where they beat and behead homosexuals?  Why would a woman want to be a tourist in a country that charges rape victims with illegal sex, a crime that carries jail time, or a country where crimes against women, whether citizens or visitors, is a regular occurrence?  Even if I personally don't have a boycott against a country, it would be unconscionable of me to accuse those who do of being "unethical."

2.  Moral Hypocrisy
Duplicity has become very prevalent in our culture, but I believe that hypocrisy is unethical.  If you believe that crimes against gays are wrong, why would you want to spend your money in a country that's openly and exultantly killing them?  "Put your money where your mouth is," as they say.  I wouldn't want a single red cent to go towards a country that currently sentences entire families to hard labor merely for opposing their government, or hacks people to death with machetes for belonging to the "wrong" religion, or beheads infants in the name of their god!  There is true evil in this world, and while I am not naive enough to think that withholding my paltry travel funds will topple regimes or change the world, I certainly will not endorse such behavior by visiting those places.

3.  The Slippery Slope of the "It Does More Harm than Good" Argument
Essentially, his article could be summed up with the "it does more harm [to boycott] than good" argument.  However, this is a very slippery slope.  Should I justify all my travel actions and purchases by this standard?  "Yes, I will buy this item from a supplier that I know uses slave labor because at least some of my money will go towards supporting those people."  "Yes, I will visit a country that degrades and kills its own people because at least a few farthings might help the poor blokes at the bottom of the food chain there."  This is a weak argument for weak ethics.

This is not the first time that I have encountered an article, travel-related or not, with which I cannot agree, nor will it be the last.  However, this is the first one which compelled me to form my own argument, and I feel very strongly that the author made a grave mistake in insulting current and potential followers who have very valid reasons to avoid certain countries.  It's neither just nor prudent to label someone "unethical" simply because you don't agree with their reasons to boycott a location or country.

What do you think?  Should people who boycott countries be called "unethical?"

*I chose not to link to the author at this time.  If you wish to read his article, you can find it by searching for "Travel Boycotts and Why They're Unethical."


  1. I agree that you shouldn't call someone out as "unethical" just because they're boycotting a country or anything else. We all have different beliefs and for someone to boycott something, obviously it's because they believe that entity did something wrong. Who are we to judge just because we don't agree with them?
    Hsiao-Ting (

    1. I think that's what was most upsetting to me about his post - his lack of respect for differing views. Who is he to call someone unethical for boycotting a country? It was unsettling to read his rigid view.

  2. Interesting! This made me think, as it's an issue I've had trouble with. I've been to Tibet, for example, which many people have boycotted. I'm not sure I would make the same choice again though. It's the same with consumer boycotts - there are countries and companies I will not buy from because I disapprove of their policies, but others might disagree. I think everyone has to draw their own line and respect others' lines rather than calling those who disagree "unethical".

    1. Thanks for your thoughts! I agree. I'm sure you could come up with a reason to boycott every single country on earth, but what might be a valid reason to boycott for one, might not be a reason to dissuade another. I think I was most affronted by the author's lack of respect for others' lines, as you stated, and his disregard for recognizing anyone's opinion other than his own. I even commented on his post that personal safety could be an issue why people boycott a country and his "response" was to regurgitate what he'd already stated in his article rather than actually acknowledge my point.

  3. i'd like to think i would have not visited the u.s.a. back in our prime of slavery. i probably wouldnt visit today either considering we finger print every non citizen person that enters now, nots sure if thats an ethical argument or what.


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