Kuoni denies political climbdown

Emma Maier

Travel operator Kuoni UK has denied that its decision last week to drop Burma from its 2004 travel brochures was linked to the work of activist group the Burma Campaign.

Sue Biggs, managing director of Kuoni, told Third Sector that the decision was taken on commercial grounds and had more to do with the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and the Iraq war. The company supported the aims of the Burma Campaign, she added, but disagreed with its methods.

The Burma Campaign has been targeting the holiday company since last September and included it on its 'dirty list' of organisations operating in Burma. The campaigning group met Biggs in February to discuss the issues.

The organisation welcomed the withdrawal of Kuoni, Europe's sixth largest travel company, because it represented a blow to the Burmese government which relies on income from the tourist industry.

"Whenever we get a company to pull out of Burma, whether it be Triumph, Premier Oil or Bhs, they never admit that it was due to us," said Burma Campaign's media and campaigns officer, Mark Farmaner. "But our record for getting companies to pull out is good. Apart from British American Tobacco, we have a 100 per cent success rate for persuading companies to leave."

Nathan Philpot, Kuoni's head of sales and marketing, said: "Since the Sars outbreak fewer people are going to Burma. There is limited space in our brochures and if we can sell more holidays to a different destination we'll do that."

Burma has always been a very small destination for Kuoni. The operator usually takes around 200 passengers to the country each year, but this has dropped to an all-time low of 160 for the 2003 season.

Biggs said: "We very much look forward to returning to Burma once the British public demands it back, which we expect to happen as soon as democracy is restored." She added the company would consider returning to the country before democracy is restored if public demand were to increase.

The Burma Campaign was pleased that Kuoni's statement acknowledged the political nature of the situation. "It is significant because we try to educate the public to slow demand as well as targeting companies to cut off supply," said Farmaner. "They have admitted that this strategy has been successful."

The Burma Campaign is continuing to target Lonely Planet, which publishes a travel guide to Burma, and will launch an offensive against the Orient Express group later in the year.

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