Providing a pleasant, safe and secure place for people to travel is one of the main concerns for tourist operators working all over the world, but increasingly travelers are calling for human rights to be adhered to and boycotting destinations were they are not met.
Some of the responsibility for upholding human rights falls at the feet of those governments imposing oppressive restrictions against their citizens, but the tourism industry as a whole must also bear some of the responsibility, said experts.
"History shows that the tourism industry doesn't care about the political system where they are offering a destination," said Christian Baumgartner, secretary general of Naturefriends International, speaking during a session on human rights and tourism at ITB Berlin.
"There should be more transparency for clients, at least as a first step," he said, adding that travel operators should inform their customers about the political situation in the country in the country to which they are travelling and the conditions for the people living there.
However, he said that in most cases informing the tourist was already too late in the process and that the hotels, tour operators and other tourism organisations should be putting pressure on governments from the first stage of investment.
"People have rights over their standard of living, they have a right for access to water and food, to decent work and all of this is affected by tourism," he said. "There are a significant number of cases where indigenous people have been removed by the government to make way for tourism."
He cited the example of Sri Lanka following the 2004 tsunami, where, in the aftermath, instead of reconstructing housing on the beaches behind buffer zones, put in place to protect locals, the government focused more on tourist redevelopment.
As a tourist when you travel to destinations where human rights are an issue, you must think about what those who fight for those rights and suffer from the violation of them, think of you being there, Tom Koenigs, a member of the German parliament at the committee on human rights and humanitarian aid, told delegates.
"It's difficult to find a country where there are no human rights violations," he said. "But we as tourists can prepare ourselves and look at those who are victims and really see [what is happening]."
While boycotting particular destinations has been used in the past in an attempt to dissuade the government from carrying out violations, something that was tried by various organisations against the ruling military junta in Myanmar before it began opening up, Baumgartner said that it did not always work.
"Ever case is different and if you are running a boycott campaign, then what should be a success is that it makes the government change something, so it needs to hit a relevant part of the GDP," he said. "This wasn't relevant in Myanmar, because tourism was such a small percentage."
Koenigs agreed adding that tourism was just one industry of many in countries with oppressive regimes.
"Tourism has to be one industry in such a boycott, but it can't be the only one," he said. "All of those engaged in such an industry should investigate and complain. Those involved in tourism should make it clear to governments that tourism isn't possible if people don't have free access."This is strictly an exclusive feature, reprints of this article in any shape or form without prior written approval from 4Hoteliers.com is not permitted.
Louise Osborne is a correspondent and editor based in Berlin, Germany. She began her career working at regional newspapers in the UK and now works with journalists across the globe as part of international journalism organization, Associated Reporters Abroad (ARA). Living abroad for the second time, she continues to be fascinated by places both near and far, and boards a plane eagerly, as often as she can.
Besides the ITB Berlin 2014 live coverage, Louise also writes a weekly exclusive column for 4Hoteliers.com