This week we will further explore some of the negative consequences of Burma’s steadily growing tourism. We will look at the impacts of luxury tourism on local life, including the consumption of endangered wildlife. Also, we will look at the dangers of land grabbing as tourism industry develops.
Myanmar Hospitality and Tourism Conference
The general thrust of the Myanmar Hospitality and Tourism Conference 2013, held at Yangon’s Traders Hotel on February 27, emphasized the need for assistance of foreign investors, global experts, and business partners to manage the rapid expansion of tourism in Burma. Most notably, in the areas of transportation, infrastructure, hotels, and the creation of new destinations.
The Minister for Hotels and Tourism sent out a clear message; a compelling invitation to potential investors and partners: “come and see the opportunities that we have, so that we can start working together for our mutual benefit”.
“You know that a country’s tourism industry is really taking off when a Hilton hotel moves in — particularly when that country has faced years of US sanctions.” Burma is certainly going through exciting times. At the country’s first industry conference, officials announced the planned opening of Hilton Yangon in early 2014, the first US hotel chain to take root in Burma.
While the new Hilton 300-room hotel could “add significantly to Yangon’s overstretched hotel capacity” and help to improve housing for international visitors, this article rightly points out the possible pitfalls of overdevelopment and neglecting local industries.
We also wonder whether luxury tourism and high-end hotels will remain committed to the principles of responsible tourism, whose aim is to ensure that benefits from tourism go also to local populations. There is a growing interest in ethical and environmental concerns within the industry but we question their authenticity as more often than not, their commitment to saving the environment is more to help their overall image and to cut down costs. Luxury tourism often requires major investments and highly qualified staff, which can be at odds with responsible tourism. Moreover, misdirected policies could be very detrimental to the preservation of cultural traditions and environment.
Burma’s military is involved in numerous cases of massive land grabbing and has been condemned in the first report submitted by the Farmland Investigation Commission. The Commission was specifically created to address the widespread increase in cases of land grabbing and to consider complaints. Indeed, in this article, we learn that the Commission has received “565 complaints between late July and Jan. 24 that allege that the military had forcibly confiscated 247,077 acres (almost 100,000 hectares) of land […] across central Burma and the country’s ethnic regions.”
Throughout the years, companies with close ties to the military government have been able to seize the lands owned by farmers and villagers to build military units, mines, or very lucrative agricultural and animal husbandry projects. Most recently however, land confiscations are related to the opening of the Burmese economy to foreign investors. These land grabbings are a serious human rights issue. It is very alarming to see that these violations could increase in the future corresponding to Burma’s bright tourism prospects – for development projects and tourist resorts – at the expense of locals and farmers subsistence.
In effect, as described in this article, villagers are making their voices heard, actively denouncing these land grabbings. Unfortunately, although “parliamentarians would discuss land-grabbing issues and possible amendments for the existing land laws in coming weeks [as well] compensation for confiscated land”, the government still continues to arrest and detain protesters and activists.
This article denounces the appetite of some tourists for “exotic dishes”, which includes endangered wildlife. Local restaurant owners seem to be more than happy to serve wild animals as they benefit financially from tourists. Even with the local forestry ministry banning all kinds of wild animal dishes, including popular dishes like barking deer and sambur meat, it is what most ‘adventurous’ visitors crave for. “Serving endangered wildlife has long been illegal here; but enforcement, before the new government, was lacking […]. Now, they successfully stopped the trade in about 80 percent of restaurants”.
100 Hours in Burma
The author describes in detail, along with beautiful and stunning pictures, his journey through Burma. He spent 100 hours in discovering and familiarizing himself with the Yangon River, the city, the tropical and stifling heat that can be pretty uncomfortable, and everything that seems confusing or even shocking.
This photo-story, which reveals the charm and the contradictions of a city and a country between modernism, traditions and poverty is definitely worth-reading in its entirety!
Have a good week everyone!