Will Myanmar use tourism or will it be used by it? Only time will tell. It depends on what individuals do …

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.

Read the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism post on the week of activity

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Harold Goodwin