Two Tourism Companies Drop East Turkistan Offerings, UHRP Calls for Zero Package Tours in a Genocide Zone

Tourism statement 2023 (1)

For immediate release
October 3, 2023, 7:00 a.m. EDT
Contact: Omer Kanat, +1 (202) 790-1795, Peter Irwin, +1 (646) 906-7722

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) is calling on international travel companies to drop package tours to East Turkistan, following the release of a UHRP briefing highlighting their risk of complicity in an ongoing genocide.

“We alerted all these companies to the ethical redline, but at least five companies are still offering a tourism ‘experience’ in the middle of a genocide,” said Omer Kanat, UHRP Executive Director.

“Two months after initiating correspondence with travel companies about the risks of complicity in downplaying genocidal policies, some companies are choosing to continue to pursue profits in the Uyghur homeland, where human rights crimes are ‘severe’ and ‘far-reaching,’ according to the UN,” said Henryk Szadziewski, UHRP Director of Research.

On August 30, 2023, UHRP published new research exposing the troubling industry of organized travel to the Uyghur region despite ongoing crimes against humanity and genocide. The briefing, Genocide Tours: International Travel Companies in East Turkistan, found seven international travel companies with tour itineraries that included sites in East Turkistan.

The UHRP briefing showed how 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 cultural heritage, as well as large-scale racial profiling, surveillance, internment, imprisonment, torture, sexual assault, and deaths in custody. Some of the tours also provided highly problematic “experiences,” such as visits to Uyghur homes.

On August 3, 2023, UHRP sent emails to Abercrombie & Kent, Bamboo Travel, Geographic Expeditions, Goway Travel, Intrepid Travel, Laurus Travel, and Wild Frontiers informing them that their company would be named in a forthcoming briefing.

After a sequence of communications, UHRP staff met with two representatives of Intrepid Travel on August 16. The representatives informed UHRP that Intrepid Travel was conducting a global human rights assessment of its operations. On August 29, an Intrepid Travel representative informed UHRP that all departures from 2023 have been canceled, and the advertised trip and any other trips that include the Uyghur region are now off the market.

On August 30, The Guardian published a story, Travel firms urged to halt trips to Uyghur region over China rights abuses, based on the briefing. The story reported that, “Shortly after the Guardian’s inquiries Intrepid and Goway withdrew tour packages that went through Xinjiang, and the webpages were removed.” Goway Travel’s senior vice-president, Craig Canvin, said that “Goway does not endorse any travel experiences that exploit human rights.”

In the same article, a representative of Bamboo Travel said, “Bamboo Travel does not support the Chinese government in their suppression of the Uyghur people…While this report may advocate avoiding all travel to Xinjiang, this is not an approach we would currently consider. We strongly believe engagement with troubled areas, and interaction with people living there, is a better approach than isolation and cutting the revenue streams that tourism provides to locals.”

On August 30, following publication of the briefing and the Guardian story, Wild Frontiers replied to a UHRP thread on Twitter with its response to the briefing, writing that, “While we fully understand why some people might choose to boycott a destination, that has not been our general approach and we do not believe that travelling to a destination represents an endorsement of government policy.” The statement went on to say that, “[W]e welcome UHRP’s report and the issues it raises, and are currently conducting a full investigation of our tours in the region.”

On September 15, UHRP again sent emails to the remaining companies named in the briefing who have not pulled tours to East Turkistan, including Abercrombie & Kent, Bamboo Travel, Geographic Expeditions, and Laurus Travel.

We have received no response from any of these companies.

UHRP once again urges international travel companies to end tours to East Turkistan and the risk of complicity in an ongoing genocide.

We firmly disagree with Bamboo Travel’s stance that ending tours is “cutting the revenue streams that tourism provides to locals.” Bamboo Travel’s promotional literature neither evidences how Uyghurs benefit directly, nor mentions that their customers are accommodated in hotels which are owned by the Chinese state.1Bamboo Travel’s China’s Silk Road By Train tour accommodates its customers in the Yue Xing Jin Jiang Hotel. According to China’s National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System database, Jin Jiang International (Holdings) Co., Ltd. (锦江国际(集团)有限公司), which operates the hotel, is a state-owned company.

The normalization of genocide and crimes against humanity in the Uyghur region is deeply concerning. When international travelers visit sanitized landscapes, they are inadvertently supporting grave injustices. Travel companies should stop organizing tours through a region where genocide is taking place.