With the boom of tourism, the year 2012 has been an important year for Burma. Thus, although a trip to Burma may not be a journey like any other, with the memory of beautiful landscapes and very kind people, this rapid expansion emphasizes more strongly the issue of the:
Development and promotion of responsible tourism: what can be the right path and the flaws to be avoided?
Let’s begin with the latest important aspects of the increasing tourism development in Burma.
The numbers are impressive: “Myanmar’s tourist arrivals reached 1 million in 2012”.
This article presents some striking figures that illustrate accurately this rapid and spectacular growth in tourism: for instance, “About 560,000 visitors entered Myanmar through the Yangon International Airport and the Yangon Port while another 560,000 visitors arrived in the country from the international entry points at the airports in Yangon, Mandalay, and Nay Pyi Taw”.
Although Burma becomes an increasingly more fashionable destination worldwide, the challenges are many as the country has still great difficulty coping with this extraordinary influx of tourists.
In this way, Burmese government is considering proposals for new hotel zones, with the main objectives of fulfilling the rising hotel demands and of relieving the capacity shortage, which Yangon notably is suffering from. Thus, more hotel zones will be built “in Rangoon’s Dagon Myothit East Township” and in areas between Myanmar’s Yangon International Airport and the planned Hanthawaddy International Airport. This development project is expected to be finalized by December 2013.
As foreign investors are expected and invited to participate to the development of these zones, “company representatives from Japan, Vietnam and Singapore” are already negotiating with the authorities. US hotel group “Best Western” is also very interested in engaging in these new building projects.
Nevertheless, although this government strategy aims at tackling the pressing issue of a severe shortage of rooms, some are still worried about the future: “The increase in demand for hotels in [Burma] is expected to outpace the addition of new supply in the coming years, causing rates to rise sharply“, said Travel Daily Asia on Jan. 8. Such a rise in room rates can be very damaging to the country’s reputation among foreign tourists.
We can recall that in an attempt to prevent possible abuses of hoteliers and price hikes, “A government-implemented US $150 cap on room rates was introduced last year”. However, “it is only applicable to lead-in rooms sold to travel agents and tour operators, and is due to expire at the end of March 2013.”
Thus, Burma needs to be careful in balancing the to need to increasing economic developments in order to support such rapid growth of tourism and the need to respect responsible tourism and protect interests of local people and the environment.
The next article exemplifies quite clearly that finding the right path may remain a challenge.
“Myanmar’s first public airline, Golden Myanmar Airlines, will operate its maiden flight between Yangon and Mandalay next Thursday, aiming to offer lower fares to budget travellers”. As it is explained, it will raise the number of domestic airlines to seven.
Although, flights can often be popular among travelers as Yangon and Mandalay are considered too distant, it may lead to the sensitive issue how to conciliate economic and ecological priorities. Indeed, in respect of sustainable tourism, as domestic flights may increase the carbon footprint of tourists, they should always consider the environmental impact of their trip and prefer to accept “slow travel” and stay one day or two days longer.
Besides, the benefit of such new means of transportation for the majority of people of Burma is only very limited since they normally cannot afford flights, although the mentioned prices are not higher than fares for first-class coaches.
In this way, although tourism can be a significant push factor for the growth of the economy, the main challenges remain how tourism development plans can be sustainable and benefit equally to local people. In order to preserve cultural diversity, traditions and the environment in a responsible manner, it needs meaningful collaboration with all concerned tourism stakeholders and positive interaction between them, travellers and local communities.
“In response to the challenge of implementing this new vision [of responsible tourism], the Nay Pyi Taw Responsible Tourism Statement was drawn up last February”. This article addresses the positive aspects and the flaws of the Burmese new policy to regulate tourism in the country that can transform it substantially: “Anticipating irresponsible tourism: Has Burma got it right?”
An encouraging step may be that Burmese officials’ worry about the potential risks of unsustainable tourism grown. The Burmese government is decided to not repeat the mistakes of other neighbouring countries (as Thailand) by adopting a long-term sustainable development which is undeniably a better option than “a get-rich-quick attitude to tourism”. Moreover, Burmese officials and many ministries “showed such an interest in creating a Responsible Tourism Policy, [which] showed recognition and an understanding of each ministry’s role as essential if the approach was to be a holistic one. Responsible tourism doesn’t just concern tourism, but touches on all aspects of life: water, fishing, climate, trade, transport, construction, human rights” said U Phyo Wai Yar Zar.
However, the article is concerned about the possible deviations, failures and decisional errors which can occur rapidly given the temptations and competitive pressure brought about by the quest for easy money: “one must question how the policy will be implemented when local entrepreneurs start being accustomed to the colour of money. In the face of a development that could bring in a small fortune, will the corners remain square? […] Making sure a responsible tourism policy is respected at every level of a country’s structure is no walk in the park, and as much as one can anticipate irresponsible tourism, one must also anticipate the repercussions of temptations to cut corners, as demonstrated in many countries across the world.”
About a precise and critical review of this Burma responsible tourism policy, we encourage you to discover (again) the report “Responsible Tourism in Myanmar: Current situation and challenges” (2012) commissioned and published by Burma Center Prague. This report reflects on the effectiveness of this policy and on the adjustments that need to be made in the near future.
Finally, a last piece of news that may interest ones who think of visiting soon Burma: “Travel restriction on foreign tourists to Kachin still in effect.” These travel restrictions have been going on for the last three months because of “security concerns”. Alternative travel may be to Chin State where foreigners still need to apply for special permissions in advance before travelling.
These travel restrictions may have important impacts on the local economies in Kachin State as “Most of the locals in Putao [in Kachin State] make their living on the tourism industry, and they take up 95 per cent of the jobs in Putao’s service sector.”
We close this EcoBurma Round-up with the “Magic and Folly of Burma”.
We let you discover this article which describes, beautifully, why it can be exciting to visit Burma now. The author portrays the beauties of Yangon: the Burma’s most sacred temple Shwedagon Pagoda, the notable colonial architecture of the city, the teahouses with a very interesting political past and “sidewalk stalls selling tasty street food, fresh-rolled leaves of betel nut to chew (which stains teeth and sidewalks red), books and phone service (not mobile phones, but land lines you can rent to make calls).” Mandalay can be much more difficult to access as “It’s flat, dusty and traffic-congested, despite the romance attached to its name […]. But it’s a vibrant commercial and internal transportation hub.” There, you can also enjoy the discovery of striking sacred sites and treasures, where the cultural history is illuminated.
Nevertheless, the author wonders whether “the opening up of Burma will affect its rich unique culture and traditions” and how “little has been done to preserve and restore the ancient temples and sites has been at best amateurish and at worst destructive.” The article concludes with noteworthy tips so as that your journey takes place in the best possible conditions.
Don’t forget to watch and share our campaign spot for Responsible Travel to Myanmar!
Have all a good week!