updated 10/9/2007 12:51:36 PM ET 2007-10-09T16:51:36

The military's brutal crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar has derailed what was looking like a record year for tourism, with travel companies and governments warning visitors away from the exotic Southeast Asian country.

As the ruling junta continues to root out dissidents following its bloody suppression of demonstrators, there are also renewed calls for a tourism boycott of the country.

In 2006, 263,500 tourists visited Myanmar. And this year, with nearly 190,000 through August, was on track to be another record.

"It would have been a good year," said John Koldowski, spokesman for Pacific Area Travel Association, which represents some 1,000 travel agents, airlines and other enterprises associated with Asia's travel industry.

But many travel companies, including high-end ones such as Orient-Express Hotels Trains and Cruises, have recommended their customers defer trips through at least October.

The company's 49-room Governor's Residence hotel remains open in Yangon and its Road to Mandalay cruise ship continues to ply the Irrawaddy River, but clients scheduled to arrive in October have been offered refunds, postponements or alternate destinations, said spokeswoman Pippa Isbell in London.

A number of governments, ranging from the United States to New Zealand and Britain, have advised their citizens against visiting Myanmar because of possible violence. Some big names in the travel industry have called for a boycott as the debate on the ethics of visiting Myanmar intensifies.

Those who support such travel say tourism helps ordinary, often poor people in the country, and the contacts between locals and foreigners in the isolated country are important. Those against it claim tourism income props up a brutal and corrupt regime.

"Now is the time to support a touristic boycott of Myanmar," says Arthur Frommer, founder of the Frommer's travel guides.

"Several major U.S. tour operators continue to operate trips to Myanmar, despite pleas not to do so by the country's democratically-elected leader, the Nobel-prize-winning Aung San Suu Kyi. On occasion after occasion, Mrs. Kyi has emphatically stated that such visits simply support the brutal, thuggish military junta that now rules Myanmar," he wrote in his blog Sept. 24.

Luzi Matzig, CEO of Asian Trails Ltd. in Bangkok, said by next year the political situation could be back to normal, but much of this year is lost to the travel industry.

"We've got a situation where we don't know which way the action could go, so unless it's absolutely mandatory that you be there, have a real hard think about it," said Koldowski, of the Pacific Area Travel Association.

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