European Travel Companies Offer Xinjiang “Genocide Tours”: 18 Companies Named in New UHRP Briefing
January 17, 2024 | 7:00 a.m. EST
For Immediate Release
Contact: Omer Kanat +1 (202) 790-1795, Peter Irwin +1 (646) 906-7722
New research from the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) highlights the ongoing problem of organized travel to the Uyghur region amid crimes against humanity and genocide. The briefing, Genocide Tours: European Travel Companies in East Turkistan, is the second in a series on tourism complicity in East Turkistan, also known as “Xinjiang.”
UHRP found at least 18 European travel companies, based in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, currently offering tours to the region.
Sites in Kashgar, Turpan, Ürümchi, and other destinations on tour itineraries are connected to crimes against humanity and genocide through repression of religious belief and expression, destruction of tangible and intangible cultural heritage of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples, as well as large-scale racial profiling, surveillance, internment, imprisonment, torture, sexual assault, and deaths in custody.
Some tours offer intrusive and problematic “experiences” for visitors, such as visits to Uyghur homes, which families are in no position to refuse, given the environment of securitization and extra-legal punishment regimes. French travel company Hasamélis, as part of its La Route de la Soie Chinoise tour, offers dinner in Turpan with a Uyghur family in their home. Other companies offering home visits include EMS Voyage, Shiraz Travel Tours, and Viatgi.
UHRP calls on international travel companies in Europe to cease profiteering from genocide.
“It is difficult to understand why overseas travel companies still offer tours to East Turkistan,” said UHRP Executive Director, Omer Kanat. “It’s a stain on the reputation of their brand. The cooperation with a genocidal state required to run these tours should make any responsible company stop offering them immediately,” added UHRP Executive Director, Omer Kanat.
In addition to the 18 European travel companies, an August 2023 UHRP briefing documented seven travel companies based in Australia, North America, and the UK, which also advertised tours to the region. In an October 3, 2023 statement, UHRP noted that only two of the seven companies had dropped tours to East Turkistan as a result of the briefing.
UHRP has also alerted the international community to the importance China attaches to tourism in East Turkistan as a means to whitewash crimes against humanity. Minister for Culture and Tourism Hu Heping is also a Deputy Director of the Communist Party’s Central Propaganda Department. Hu Heping has visited East Turkistan on at least three occasions, including a May 2021 trip to inspect “cultural tourism” in the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, an entity sanctioned by the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union for its grave and systematic human rights violations.
“There are clear guidelines in Europe on mainstreaming human rights standards into travel industry practice,” said Dr. Henryk Szadziewski, UHRP Director of Research and author of the briefing. He added, “The European Travel Agents and Tour Operators’ Association (ECTAA) defines ethical benchmarks on human rights in tourism and tourism in oppressive contexts. It’s quite simple, travel companies in Europe should be members of the ECTAA and follow these guidelines.”
UHRP urges European travel companies, national associations, and the ECTAA to include the Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics, approved by the UN General Assembly in 2019, as further benchmarks for business standards.
- The regional government regards cultural heritage primarily as a resource to develop the tourism industry, and a propaganda tool used to present heavily stage-managed images of normality in the region.
- China’s actions in East Turkistan constitute what the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) calls “strategic cultural cleansing”: the deliberate targeting of individuals and groups based on their cultural, ethnic or religious affiliation, combined with the intentional and systematic destruction of their cultural heritage.
UHRP Report Illustrates Chinese State TV Role in Cleansing Genocide, December 21, 2021
- China’s flagship international broadcaster, China Global Television Network (CGTN), is part of an influence campaign meant to convince a worldwide public that the Uyghurs have been politically cleansed through reeducation, and that the region is now open for state-approved cultural tourism and economic exploitation.