Our History and Ethics
Burma and Small Group Travel
In 1997 I made my first journey to Burma as a tour leader for an Australian Travel company. I operated many two and three week tours and fell in love with the country and its people.
By 1999 the Australian Company came uneasily to a decision to suspend their operation, and I as a part time employee of theirs, supported their right to decide this. However I believed that there is (and has been) a tremendous positive impact that comes from small group travel. As for the travellers who visited Burma with me, or any of the other leaders who had worked there, I know none that came away believing we should not be travelling there.
Early in 2003 the same company reversed their decision to operate tours in Burma. As a result of this I was given the responsibility of re-establishing their program in Burma. They had 17 trips planned for the first year with the possibility for more in the future. This was great news for my friends and operators there, instantly giving these families the opportunity to earn a living and begin again to dream of a time when they could feel comfortable about their short term future. Tragically, due to one particular political incident, the ongoing determination on behalf of the regime and the sweeping arguments of pro boycotters, the company chose to suspend their program again. Before this could happen we operated the first three company trips, which were an outstanding success. Not surprisingly a general theme from passenger feedback was to request that this company did not suspend its operation. These travellers had witnessed first hand the benefits of tourism to desperate people. I say again that I respect their decision but still believe in engagement as a positive force for change.
Once again, in order to stay in touch with our friends and operators, I decided to continue to run trips in Burma. Our program has run ever since.
The issues that divide many of our opinions are still relevant to any decision to travel in this country. I encourage all to learn as much about the issues as possible before making YOUR decision on the merits of small group travel.
Whatever you decide please turn your reasoning into action. Burma needs our passion not our indifference.
Global Drift has expanded to operate tour itineraries for groups and individual parties all over the world.
We still have a strong connection to Burma of course, and for anyone who has followed this country’s development and progress over the years, they would be aware that Burma still faces ongoing challenges of a different (but in a way all too familiar) nature.
We still believe that travel, at the ground level, utilising local business, can help assist in change for good.
As before there are strong opinions on both sides on the internal matters that continue to plague Burma. Often, I personally wonder why the plight of Burma’s populace, their government(s) and their local living conditions warrants such strong opinions and (dare I say it) boycotts, whilst other countries and regimes (some of them right next door) stay on the favoured travel and trade lists. Many of these other nations have their own ongoing brand of oppressive politics and have done for many long years.
For us, we continue to believe in engagement and will stay firm to our belief that travel can be an immensely positive experience for all and the exchanges individuals have can help the lives of those we visit.
The Benefits for Burma (and all locations we travel to)
We have designed itineraries, which for the most part are land based, thus reducing drastically any monies that go directly to state institutions. Transport is handled by private operators, and for accommodation we stay with local guest houses/small hotels on most Burma itineraries. The “Burma in Style” Deluxe tour utilizes 4-5 star accommodation but all privately owned. Included on most trips is a wonderful night sleeping on the magnificent Irrawaddy River on a privately owned and operated boat. On previous trips, on average, 95% of the money we spent went into the hands of regular citizens of Burma who are trying to eke out a living in these difficult times. The other 5% was spent on entrance fees to certain archaeological sights, religious monuments and Inle Lake itself. We acknowledge that whilst these fees are government regulated a certain percentage of them would be used to maintain these facilities/sights.
Under the circumstances we believe that this is tolerable when taken in context with the contributions we can make on a community level. We will continue programs already in place that encourage development in areas in need of assistance. Programs such as helping a school build a new wing and developing a fresh water well in Bagan. Although it is still in its infancy, we will continue to support efforts to provide fresh water to villages that have limited access, and assist village development in the Kalaw region. The Maing Thauk orphanage is also a regular on our tour schedule. Wonderful work is being done there by local leaders and Mr. Cor Visser a Dutch native and resident of Inle Lake.
We are constantly on the lookout for ways we can make a difference to the lives of the most hospitable and gentle people we have met in our travels. Despite their extremely difficult circumstances and hard times they are always ready with a smile and genuine interest in what we are up to. Help from us can come in the form of donation, practical gifts, assistance and even just basic encouragement.
Our goal is to expose as many people as possible to this wonderful place (and all our travel locations) and in turn raise the awareness of the daily struggles that the local people are up against. In turn we would hope that some people might return home and have a greater desire to stay involved in the issues that are affecting this wonderful country and all places we visit.
We champion everyone’s right to speak, and decide for themselves what they believe is THEIR right course of action. We hope to maintain ongoing contact with some very good friends and in turn provide support for their endeavours. We also hope to provide encouragement as they try to determine their own future direction.