As delegates gathered in Rio for Rio+20, twenty years on from the Earth Summit, I am in Brazil’s second city co-chairing the 6th International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations. There are delegates and speakers from 21 countries discussing what progress has been made in sustainable tourism since 1992.
Many delegates and speakers share the view that there has been too much time spent formulating lists of actions which contribute to sustainable tourism and too little effort put into implementation. The focus of this year’s RTD conference is on progress since 1992, the cup is clearly less than half-full. There is a broad consensus here that whilst there are a good number of initiatives which have made a difference, there needs to be a step change in the approach.
Speakers and delegates have been talking about the need to shift our focus from international arrivals and to recognise the importance of domestic tourism and the contribution which tourism makes to economic development, we need to focus on yield and spreading economic benefits more widely in communities and in destinations.
It is not enough to report and talk about outputs, on what is done, the money spent on technical assistance or days of training. We need to be assessing initiatives on their impacts, what changes on the ground, who benefits, by how much.
Several speakers have talked about the isolation of tourism, an isolated sector handled by a minor ministry, even where there is a tourism minister. There is an emerging consensus here that those involved in tourism – in business, in governance, in education and academia, in inter-governmental organisations or in NGOs – need to change our approach and to think and talk much more about sustainable development through tourism.
We need to break out of the silo and engage with national and local priorities for sustainable development, asking ourselves how tourism can contribute to sustainable development to benefit communities. We need to break out of the silo we put ourselves in and engage with other business sectors and with the whole of government.
Others have pointed to the lamentable absence of the sustainable tourism agenda in college and university courses in tourism and hospitality.
We shall be returning to the issue of Progress in Responsible Tourism at World Travel Market in November
Lawrence Reinisch and Hasiba Rehman from WTM Latin America are at the conference and there was enthusiasm for the inclusion of four panels on Responsible Tourism at the trade show which will be held in April 2013.
A number of people have asked why I concluded my last blog saying that as I left Myanmar I was “cautiously optimistic.”
As I left the first reports of the ethnic disturbances in Rakhine, in the west of the country, were coming in. The government has now declared a state of emergency following clashes between Muslims and Buddhists. The politics of Myanmar are very complex and peoples’ expectations of change are high. read more
The transition to democracy will be challenging to accomplish, there are many different groups with grievances, all will compete for economic resources, all seek growth. The path to democracy will be bumpy, and that can deter visitors.
In the West there is a tendency to think only about the numbers of tourists who will now want to visit. That is significant but it is not the most likely source of growth of visitor arrivals. Myanmar has borders with India, China and Thailand – these markets will dominate Myanmar’s tourism – already there are resorts with casinos on the Chinese border.
The Ministry of Tourism has ambitious objectives, they will need the support of responsible operators, travel writers and journalists as they seek to grow their industry sustainably.
Do what you can.
I am just back from Nay Pyi Taw and Yangon in Myanmar where I facilitated the workshops, and the joint public/private sector conference, which agreed a draft Myanmar Responsible Tourism Policy. The policy will now be further developed by the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism and go through the necessary processes to become a national policy.
The development of the draft policy was funded by the German Hanns Seidel Foundation and the Myanmar Tourism Federation. Nicole Haeusler and Achim Munz worked with Kyi Kyi Aye and Phyoe Wai Yar Zar to run a series of ten workshops with the public and private sector. I arrived in Myanmar after this series of workshops to facilitate the process to a conclusion.
The main themes for Responsible Tourism in Myanmar had been identified and a long list of action points had emerged, I chaired the two national workshops one with the private sector in Yangon and the other with the public sector, and the concluding one day conference, in the new capital of Myanmar, Nay Pyi Taw.
As was the case in February there was a very high level of participation and enthusiasm from government ministries with most represented. Nay Pyi Taw is a five hour drive from Yangon, the new name for Rangoon, where the tourism industry is concentrated. Business participation in the final conference was disappointing, although at the workshop in Yangon the private sector was enthusiastic for the policy.
The private sector is experiencing considerable change and there is an urgent need to regularise the contractual relationships between the operators and the hoteliers, if this cannot be achieved by voluntary codes then government will need to regulate and the law will need to be used to enforce contracts. Overseas operators will not accept that their clients are bumped to lower quality hotels on arrival. Already some international operators are making hotel inspections and requiring changes in the heights of balcony railings and changes to meet international fire safety standards – responsibility is not just about sustainability.
H E U Htay Aung, the Deputy Minister of Hotels and Tourism opened the concluding conference and said
“the Ministry has repeatedly stated its commitment to uphold the principles of Responsible Tourism. We are fully aware that the success of can be judged by … the net benefit to the country and its people.”
He said that the Responsible Tourism aim
“… is a simple one – to encourage every travel company, operator, hotel and destination to take real action and show consumers that they not only care about the sustainability of the tourism industry in Myanmar but also the communities that are so often negatively affected by mass tourism. … Responsible Tourism can be used to get competitive advantage. ”
The Deputy Minister argued that
“If there is no proper policy management and controls, we will be getting into a stagnant stage in a short while.”
There is still a lot to be done in Myanmar to make a reality of Responsible Tourism, to ensure that Myanmar uses tourism and that it avoids being used by tourism. There are few new countries still to be opened up for tourism, Myanmar is one of them, with unspoilt beaches and forests, 4,400 cultural and scared monuments at Bagan, a rich and diverse living cultural heritage. Myanmar needs to be competitive and to preserve what is special about it – it needs to balance competitive growth and sustainability.
Myanmar is a special place, a Responsible Tourism Policy can record agreement about what needs to be done – but the policy will need to be implemented, individuals will need to shoulder responsibility and to play their part in realising the ambition to use tourism to make Myanmar a better place to live in, and a better place to visit. Will Myanmar use tourism or will it be used by it? Only time will tell. It depends on what individuals do, where they strike the balance between short term interests and long term sustainable development.
I left Myanmar cautiously optimistic.
Read more about tourism in Myanmar on the WTMWRTD blog.
Kumbalangi in Kerala is to be declared a Responsible Tourism destination bring the total declared in Kerala to five, over the last few years there have been a series of initiatives in Kumarakom, Wayanad, Thekkady, and Kovalam.
Kumbalangi is recognised as a sustainable agriculture village, the plan is to supply products from the village to hotels in Fort Kochi as Kumbalangi more home stays than hotels.
The Ministry if Tourism, working with the Kerala Institute of Tourism and Travel Studies has an ambitious plan: 30 per cent of the classified and approved units located in rural areas will be converted to RT classified units in 10 years. Responsible Tourism investor will be grant aide. A new system is to be introduced whereby 15 per cent of the total investment, subject to a maximum ceiling of Rs.20 lakh, will be provided for investors classified under RT.
Nepal is opening up to China with new roads being constructed, in a country where everyone used to walk new highways are being built across the Himalaya. This will ease access and speed egress.And what will be the impact on trekking tourism?
Who want’s to fly halfway round the world to trek beside a highway? The tourists appear to be abandoning some of the trekking routes – perhaps Nepal will find development through trade with China, but the new roads are not necessarily good for tourism.
James McConnachie finds bus passengers praying out loud as they navigate the most notorious new road in the Himalayas. Hear more on BBC Radio 4 listen on line