The Elephant in the Room at TBEX Asia
A travel blogger requested on Twitter that I write something about the political situation in Thailand, rather than merely “trolling” by sharing links about the human rights situation there. And while this may not seem remotely topical by now – it’s well-known that Thailand’s human rights situation has been deteriorating steadily since the May 2014 military coup – it is relevant.
For, right now, at the TBEX Asia conference, “professional” bloggers are teaching ethical writing and responsible tourism to aspirants. Afterwards, participants with sufficient Instagram followers or link-vending clout will head off to free stays at hotels, in exchange for an almost always uniformly positive, generally undisclosed and sometimes, for the elite, even paid-for “review”. (Here’s Travelfish on this.)
Here’s the thing. Thailand has always had harsh lese-majeste laws. Yet under the new order, a man was recently sentenced to 60 years (that’s SIXTY years) for Facebook posts – reduced to merely half a lifetime on appeal. Military dictator Prayuth threatened to execute journalists earlier this year.
Holding sessions on ethical writing – not to mention responsible tourism – in a military dictatorship which Human Rights Watch describes as in a human rights crisis legitimises that dictatorship. (Last year’s
TBEX Asia Professional Travel Bloggers Association meet-up was in Sri Lanka, a nation with its own history of disappeared journalists and PR problems to cover up.)
As it happens, this is not the junta’s first interaction with the world of “professional” travel blogging. A Thailand fam trip last year insisted as a prerequisite of attending the jolly that bloggers wrote positively about safety in Thailand: oodles of smiling soldier posts ensued.
And, as the junta endeavours to cover up safety concerns following the Erawan Shrine bombing, it probably won’t be the last. So, as the speakers at TBEX won’t have told you, I think it’s important to be aware, when considering travel to Thailand, that there’s more to ethical tourism than being nice to elephants. (Or, as Nomadic Matt pointed out during a previous TBEX PR disaster, not torturing dolphins.)
Does every blog post written about Thailand have to include a mention of the dictatorship? Of course not. But if it’s the dictatorship that is arranging, financing and controlling the content of that post – most of the 600 bloggers at TBEX will spend two weeks in Thailand on junta-led press trips – disclosure is more than usually relevant. A nice little graphic saying “certified junta-friendly” should do it.
Thanks to Michael for Elephants – Chiang Mai (last part), available on Flickr’s Creative Commons.