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A VOYAGE INTO CONTROVERSY?

By Laura Wilshaw (@laurajwilshaw)     4 Nov 2016

Do the Rodrigo Dutertes and Donald Trumps of the world make you rethink your travel plans? As voters head to the polls in the US election, Laura Wilshaw visits Manila—but debates the ethics of such journeys

If Donald Trump becomes the President of the United States, how will I view America and the people in it? Probably much like I now see the United Kingdom after Brexit—as a less tolerant, more right wing and more divisive place. (And I’m British!) But will I still travel there? Maybe.

On one hand, if the pattern of Brexit is followed and the dollar weakens to levels not seen in years, then its great news for anyone spending other currencies. That’s a pretty good incentive for travel.

No doubt in the big cities, little will feel different. Likewise, for families planning a trip to Disney; apart from getting more Donald Duck for their dollar, the rides won’t stop and the parks won’t close.


‘If I’m choosing to holiday somewhere, why not choose somewhere that causes my brain to ache less?’


But there is a principled decision to make. If like me, you sit on the liberal side of the fence then chances are Donald Trump has offended you more than any other politician I can think of.

Like the UK after Brexit, a US with him in charge does make me wonder about what sort of society these places are choosing to be. Not one I particularly want to embrace. So perhaps, if I’m choosing to holiday somewhere, why not choose somewhere that causes my brain to ache less?

In other places where politics isn’t peaceful, there are far more serious decisions to make. I went to Manila a couple of weeks ago and had to think hard about whether that was a sensible choice. It was (and still is) at the height of President Duterte’s war on drugs.

In the weeks before, I’d seen news reports about his unforgiving, vigilante killing policy and those images were hard to shake. I reasoned with myself that it was a capital city and these killings were likely happening in the less salubrious areas, away from where I’d be staying; that I would use more caution when moving around.

Interestingly, Duterte’s policy, while seen by much of the wider international community as criminal, for many of the real people of Manila it’s a welcome change.

I was in a taxi and on the radio Duterte was speaking. I asked the driver what he thought. He believed the drugs policy was a good thing. Petty crime was down, carjacking was down and the streets of Manila felt safer.

It was food for thought and somewhat comforting to know that our taxi was now less likely to get robbed—but not, in my opinion, at the cost of all those lives lost.


‘Duterte’s policy, while seen by much of the wider international community as criminal, for many of the real people of Manila it’s a welcome change.’


In Manila there are security guards and police with guns guarding many a shop, business and hotel. It feels edgy if you’re not used to seeing so many firearms, but at the same time it was also a thoroughly interesting weekend. As long as I felt safe, I was also fascinated by how the politics was playing out at a local and international level.

Had I been a person of a weaker constitution, perhaps I wouldn’t have travelled there. But it’s a charming country, mostly unaffected by drugs, with friendly, interesting people—many of whom rely on tourism.

Turkey is not an entirely different story either. Hugely reliant on tourists in some areas, the threat of terror, a recent airport bombing, separatism and a demonstratively conservative government, mean Istanbul has now fallen down my list of places to revisit—and what a crying shame. It’s one of the most beautiful, historic, wonderful cities I’ve ever been to.

In Thailand, the death of the revered King means the country is now in an official year of mourning. Although tourism chiefs are encouraging visitors to continue their plans as normal, there is new guidance: tourists are encouraged to wear somber colors in public (though it’s not compulsory) and some clubs and bars will have restricted opening hours.

But apart from a respect for the passing of His Majesty, tourism continues to thrive and so it should. The love of the Thai people for the King weaves into everyday life through their worship, tolerance, cultural identity and joy. It is sensible, expected and polite to now be culturally sensitive to their loss.

Politics and access also go hand in hand. I’ve never been to Mainland China, mostly because it’s such a faff to get a visa compared to elsewhere in the Asia Pacific region. No doubt that is just laziness on my part and the treasures that China has to offer should and will override my inertia.

Though my politics do not align with communism, as one of the great nations of the world—culturally fascinating, historically rich and incredibly beautiful—I will absolutely travel there.

With that in mind, perhaps it is the change to the familiar in America that I’m afraid of, and my principles only stand up on a selective basis.

While the politically engaged among us might consider present politics and safety when traveling, what a country has to offer for tourists—in terms of things to see, culture and cost—is likely to be the biggest influencer.

One hopes that in the future, tourist attractions that educate us about the worst of past politics, like the Killing Fields of Cambodia, remain firmly in the history books.


How do you feel about war tourism? Read our piece on visiting Hiroshima here.

Photos: Alamy / Leigh Green / ZUMA Press, Inc

Laura Wilshaw
Laura Wilshaw (@laurajwilshaw)

Laura Wilshaw is a British journalist and producer based between Asia and the UK. She has been at the front line of some of the biggest stories of the last decade: from natural disasters like Typhoon Haiyan, to the wars in Afghanistan and Ukraine, as well as elections in the US and the UK. She’s even covered the Oscars. She was the senior foreign editor at Sky News, and has also worked at ITV News and Channel 5 in Britain. She now writes for various international publications.

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