After a short break, we are delighted to welcome you once again with this new edition of EcoBurma Round-up where you can read the latest news, tips and stories on responsible tourism in Burma.
This week, we begin by describing newly open border crossings and the lifting of travel bans in many areas of Burma. We then present you with a series of articles on the transformation of Burma and its impact on the quality of life for the local people. Finally, on a positive note, we will look at improved preservation of dolphins in Burma.
Confusion around changing rules for tourists
“In January, the Ministry of Homes removed bans on travel to some areas of Chin, Kayah, Kayin, Shan and Kachin states.” This new development however is hindered by a lack of coordination and collaboration between various government departments, affecting its beneficial impact on tourism. Indeed, to avoid any confusion among official agents and travel businesses, “the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism needs to improve its communication, adding that its website is not up to date and the information is not reliable.”
We should give you advance warning that all information about border crossing or travel authorizations does change very quickly. Thus, a journey to Burma should be prepared meticulously.
In this sense, our next article, “New Burmese/Thai land crossings opened” could come in very handy. As of now “it is official: foreign tourists may enter the country at the Tachilek, Myawaddy and Kawthaung land entry points.” This article details – along with great pictures – each entry point: how to go there, the mode of transportation, what to visit, expectations and limitations, etc.
We strongly encourage you to read it if you plan to travel to Burma soon.
Tourism and the transformation of Burma
Let’s begin with good news: the influx of tourism in Burma is fast-growing and is looking increasingly promising, particularly with the opening of borders and travel zones as discussed earlier.
However, the proper management of this massive entry of tourists remains to be seen. What needs to be highlighted is the need to promote responsible tourism that will contribute to the preservation of the environment, cultural heritage and the rights and well-being of the local population.
Our first article describes in detail the major challenges the Burmese government and the tourism industry need to tackle to avoid the pitfalls of an uncontrolled tourism.
“A social awareness approach” is “key if Burma is to handle the environmental and social impacts that [tourism] will bring.” Not all tourists show respect for the environment of the country they are visiting. The absence of established laws and standards are often used as an excuse to indulge in practices one would not commonly indulge in at homes. Negative behavior of tourists, particularly engaging in sex tourism, is the most serious scenario that has drastic effects on the local population. “We don’t want our country to be like our neighboring countries […], citing Thailand as an example.” In this way, “educating Burmese society is vital to limit the growth of sex tourism, and child and human rights abuses, as well as to preserve traditional cultural mores […]. It needs cooperation from civil society and local communities to get the message out.”
However, one of the main issues here is the lack of technical and financial resources.
Concerning cultural heritage, the restoration of historic sites or the creation of museums is not necessarily what attracts foreign investors. Conversely, “the decision by the government to rent or sell some historical structures has sparked debate among historians, politicians and average Burmese citizens.” All that combined with the environmental mess left by the construction of buildings for tourist purposes.
Further, while tourism is labor-intensive, there is often limited labor legislation in favor of “small jobs,” particularly in developing countries. Those employed in tourism are often exploited and work for low wages, out of proportion with the amount spent by their wealthy customers.
As denounced by our second article, “Tourism is no guarantee for development”, “In many cases; this is seasonal, low-quality of work that barely offers any prospects […]. A large part of the population live below the poverty line.” The harsh reality in Burma is that most local businesses do not benefit from the tourist influx: to make money, you have to have contact with the local authorities.
“This market concentration” has been accurately described by Burma Center Prague’s Project Manager, Christoph Amthor. He cites, “the general problem in Burmese society is a deep-rooted inequality of opportunities and a lack of ways that disenfranchised people can efficiently defend their rights.”
Indeed, as confirmed by our third article “Burma poised for six-fold rise in multi-millionaire”, “Twenty six percent of its population live in poverty, 75 percent lack access to electricity and the average per capita national income is $800 to $1,000 a year, according to the World Bank.” However, “Burma’s hotel industry, commodities especially lumber and finance and banking sectors are growing very rapidly and this will expand the ranks of the country’s ultra wealthy over the coming decade, said Mykolas Rambus, CEO of Wealth-X.”
The question of “whether the wealth will stay in the hands of a few” makes it imperative to promote general awareness and develop local initiatives that may become real alternative proposal forces. It seems also necessary to ensure full transparency in tourism businesses, with full participation of the local population in the decision-making process.
Let us end on a more positive note: “Burma will cooperate with the Wildlife Conservation society (WCS) to implement a plan to help save the Irrawaddy dolphin.”
Have a good week everyone!
Weekly EcoBurma Roundup #43: Border Crossing, Tourism and Development, Irrawaddy Dolphins,