This week’s spotlight is on:
Promoting Burma: A valuable destination or not?
As tourism expands dramatically in the country, differing opinions exist as to the value of making the journey to Burma.
The first article entitled “Myanmar: From tyranny to tourism” is US-focused and puts forward some rather positive arguments. Although this viewpoint is rather expected since the article is published by the travel industry, it does present an interesting overview of the current situation in Burma, including perspectives on what to expect from an upcoming trip.
The article begins with a description of the political reforms and progress in terms of human rights that led to the U.S. releasing its sanctions against the country, “including a ban on visas for Burmese officials […], which opened the way for financial services and new investments in the country”.
However, such progress is fragile and reversible. With the example of Lu Maw, a member of the Mandalay-based comedy trio the Moustache Brothers, the author points out that there are some skeptics who wonder whether these changes towards greater democracy and respect for human rights are real and tangible. Nevertheless, the tourism industry, a very important sector of the country’s burgeoning economy, is greatly expanding. To cite, “last year, 21,380 Americans travelled to Myanmar, and that was a 31% increase over 2010 […], and for 2012, those numbers are expected to be exponentially higher”. In comparison, however, to more popular Asian destinations such as Thailand, “Myanmar’s tourism industry has a long way to go”.
The author takes the example of his own 10-day trip to Myanmar with the tour operator Haimark Travel. He explains that the beauty of Burma lies precisely in the wildness of its landscapes, and the strength of its cultural heritage and architecture. It remains natural, unchanged by the intrusion of high numbers of tourists insensitive to local traditions and the inherent environment. In this way, “it’s pretty far out to some place that’s not fully immersed in consumer capitalism. […] There are also plenty of small villages dotting Myanmar’s lush countryside where villagers still live in basic teak or bamboo stilted homes, raise their own livestock […]”.
Finally, the author raises the issue and challenge of “tracing tourism dollars and [to know in] whose hands they end up”. According to him, “tour operators and travel companies that are operating in the country feel they ultimately can do more good than harm by bringing tourists and their dollars there”. This statement may be qualified as thoughtless when put into the context of future tourism development that will benefit the local communities.
We leave it to you to discover your own practical considerations for an upcoming trip to Burma.
Presenting a not-too-bright picture, the following article, in a pretty provocative way, displays “five reasons to think twice before visiting Myanmar”. It merely raises some legitimate concerns and the impact of Burma’s rising tourism industry. For instance, the huge increase in prices due to the lack of well-fitted infrastructure enabling “hotel and tour operators to charge a premium for mediocre products and services, meaning travellers won’t get much for all the crisp, unfolded U.S dollars they are required to spend”.
The author goes further by stating that the country is overrated even with its must-see sights and its people who are “some of the friendliest, more sincere in the world”. He notes, “unless expectations are tempered and the cities of Mandalay and Yangon get complete makeovers, travelers may well leave disappointed”.
In addition, the author attempts to tackle the misconception of Burma as still being a virgin country (excluding its popular tourist attractions, of course). As he points out, “it’s already been discovered: the chance to be among the “first” travelers to visit Myanmar has long since passed”. It’s worth noting that the author does not question the beauty of Myanmar as such, going further by describing a journey to the country as “an unforgettable and rewarding experience”. Rather, he encourages potential visitors to do prior research so as not to get wrong impressions on the current political and tourist situation, highlighting the issue of tourism as a source of income for government.
The next article is on the current state of “Myanmar tourism after boycott”, followed by “the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism declared tourism the country’s ‘national priority sector’ in its Responsible Tourism Policy (RTP)”. Indeed, as the tourism industry expands, the stakes of sustainable development and responsible tourism – “which is about identifying economic, social and environmental issues which matter locally and tackling them”- continue to be very high and any misconception can lead to very serious consequences. It is crucial that such statement is followed by action and not just verbal promises. There is an urgent need for a critical debate on mass tourism in Myanmar. The author identifies some acute weaknesses of the current tourism system in Burma such as: issues on land, the lack of technical and financial resources of smaller enterprises and guesthouses to meet safety standards and thus be certified, ecotourism and restricted travel, including how the industry addresses Myanmar’s structural poverty.
We encourage you to read the article and discover more about these pressing issues.
Last but not least, Travel and your values: The power of deliberate spending”.
In this article, the author aims to make us realize that our travel-related decisions are not without consequences; that we should be mindful of our impact on the communities we visit and in general, the world. The first question that springs to mind then is, how do we make “conscious decisions about where to spend your money”. Since the author believes “it is not always easy”, he offers some words of wisdom on how to approach this in a responsible manner: “spend locally, connect locally”. “Our goal was to put as much money in the hands of locals while keeping it out of the hands of the junta government”. Such attitude, accompanied by strong dialogue and communication, can result in a far more valuable and enriching journey, both for travelers and local communities. Aside from providing economic benefits for local communities, responsible tourism is culturally sensitive as it enhances more meaningful ties with local people, with a greater understanding of local cultural traditions and stories. And “when you spread your travel resources around with a focus on the community you are visiting, the more that community benefits […]. Ethical, responsible travel is no longer a zero sum game”.
A second aspect of responsible tourism relates to the choice of “tours and travel experiences that reflect our values”. Better access to information – including the availability of peer reviews, direct contact with companies and connections to their past customers – has caused rising demand for transparency and has provided us with “a better ability to evaluate our options and find the ones that work the best in terms of our desired experience”. The author demonstrates that responsible tourism does not necessarily entail higher costs, but in certain situations when it becomes more expensive compared to other forms of traveling, the reasonable price difference is well worth it.
Enjoy this stimulating article.
As Myanmar tourism expands quickly, officials warn against sexual exploitation of children in Myanmar. “Since last month, warning signs have been posted in every hotel room in Bagan to let foreigners know that committing child sexual exploitation is a serious crime in Myanmar”.
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Have a good week.