This week’s topics are:
The stakes of the fast growing tourism boom
The Golden Rock of ‘Kyaitktiyo’
Burma’s neglected animals
Violence in Rahkine State
The figures of tourist arrivals in Myanmar are increasingly impressive with targets set to be reached as “Foreign tourists arrivals to Myanmar could reach up to one million by end of 2012“.
According to the Minister’s estimate, “The Yangon International Airport has been receiving an average of 2,300 visitors daily”. As an effect, the increased flow of foreign tourists has had serious implications on the need to improve the quality of tourism infrastructure. With their numbers, tourists literally take hotels by storm and Myanmar is struggling to meet the demand for more accommodation as “there are not enough rooms for them in the first place“. The significant effect on prices for the consumer may be reduced with investments in building new hotels, including for instance, “a new hotel zone in Tada-U, near the Mandalay International Airport”. Nevertheless, hotel owners and tourism stakeholders are aware of some difficulties they face in respect of safety standards and in avoiding delays and bottlenecks as “local businessmen in the past had not been interested in investing in the hotel and tourism industry”.
To overcome these impediments and to promote environmentally sound and responsible tourism, there is a need to train employees in the tourism sector similar to the one recently conducted in Bali, Indonesia. “The William Angliss Institute – a training provider for food, tourism and hospitality industries – drew up a curriculum for the basic and diploma levels“. One notable goal of this training is it will enable employees to receive the same salary in all ASEAN countries. The training started on November 12th and ended on December 3rd of this year.
A high point of your journey to Burma is the pilgrimage to the Golden Rock of Kyaiktiyo, on the edge of a cliff between Yangon and Mawlamyine. The site is one of the most sacred and most beautiful natural sites in Burma. Many native pilgrims from Myanmar make the journey to this stunning shrine and as Burma continues to open up to the rest of the world, many more pilgrims and tourists of many faiths from Europe will make the trek and come to admire the sight.
Even if getting to Kyaiktiyo is not the easiest of journeys, “local residents say visitor numbers have rocketed since the start of the year, and at least 1,500 people including around 200 foreigners are now arriving here daily“. The place is accessible to tourists for a small entrance fee, but it does not exempt them from respecting the silence and mediation of monks. Women can view the temple but are not allowed to touch the rock or even approach it closely, due to some traditional beliefs. “Mya Maung, an aging caretaker who looks after the pagoda, said that every time a woman enters the restricted area intending to touch the rock, the sky becomes cloudy and heavy rain follows”. The atmosphere there is such that tourists find they are deeply nourished by their visit. This article explains that you can go either on foot – with a three-hour climb -, or by bus – which is a one hour journey. “Donations are collected along the road up”.
There are plenty of shops selling traditional handicrafts around the site; also a smattering of local restaurants, guest houses, hotels. With the tourism boost, “several residents told The Irrawaddy that they are happy Burma is opening up […] as they can earn more extra money than in the past.” However, the fact remains, there is much to improve on as “tourism business is still mainly controlled by different authorities” and as “the livelihoods of most ordinary people there remain unchanged”. Many of them still live in serious impoverished conditions and are unable to meet the basic needs of food, clothes, and shelter. For further details, we encourage you to discover the testimonies of local people in this article.
The next article, “Burma’s neglected animals” is about the downside of such journey in Kyaikto as “near the Golden Rock, groups of vendors offer tourists an array of traditional medicine products supposedly made from body parts of endangered and protected animals. For US $20 a woman offers The Irrawaddy tiger teeth, of which she claims to have a whole jar”.
This article highlights the very unfavorable and dire conditions in which wild animals are kept due to “under-funded zoo keeping facilities that date back to British colonial times”. It delves on the damaging effect of the illegal trafficking of animals – a very lucrative trade – especially in the ivory and tradition medicine industries. To protect its rich wildlife and biodiversity, Burma has established “more than a dozen national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, and it has three zoos and a collection of smaller complexes housing animals as tourist attractions”. However, these zoos lack technical expertise and sufficient funding to modernize facilities and reach international health and safety standards. Moreover, there is a serious need to tackle pervasive corruption as smugglers can bribe and encourage local farmers to “engage in lucrative poaching in nearby protected areas for extra income”.
Following the violence near the city of Sittwe and surrounding townships in Rakhine State, on the country’s border with Bangladesh, many travel companies have cancelled planned tours in the most affected part of the State. The tours were called off “following an outbreak of fighting in the region in October that led to the deaths of 87 people” and despite “frequent requests from tourists”. Thus, even if no official announcement has been made, “everybody knows tourists will not be safe there in this situation so [companies] cancelled programs […] and alternative tours are being offered instead”. However, such alternative tours can be difficult to set up given the lack of infrastructure and according to U Phyoe Wai Yar Zar, managing director of All Asia Exclusive Travel, there is rather an urgent need to introduce and enhance destinations like southern Chin State and Mon State. Nonetheless, if travel companies are willing to inhibit tourists from making decisions which could be too risky for them, they also do not want to overly worry and prefer to underline the need to “resurrect Rakhine State as a destination as soon as it has become normalised”. The article further asserts that for instance, travel to Ngapali seems to be unaffected.
The last article explains in greater detail the history and causes of this long-running conflict between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine State. It highlights the area’s urgent need to strengthen the provision of medical assistance to the affected population. And therefore, it prompts the relevant question whether any tourists should be travelling there at all. Even if the government banned local travel agencies from taking foreign tourists to the region, individual travellers can still visit the area, with special permits granted to some larger groups. As such, there are differing views on the subject. Certain tourists feel safe and do not want to miss the opportunity to visit beautiful landscapes: “Philippe Grivel, a retired Frenchman traveling solo in Rakhine state, said he was afraid not of the potential for violence, but of the possibility of missing one of Myanmar’s grandest historical sites”. “The sightseers – 12 tourists and one guide – spent several days bicycling through Mrauk-U’s quaint, crumbling streets. They visited the town market. They saw nothing disturbing”. Certain express more concerns over the violence and feel there is a palpable sense that the situation can deteriorate at anytime. For more details, we warmly encourage you to read this interesting article.
Have a good week.