The 3rd National Conference on Communities and Tourism (NCCT), aiming to discuss the interface of communities and tourism in Myanmar, will be held in Kalaw, Shan state in June, according to the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB).
Around 150 guests including officials from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, representatives from Myanmar Tourism Federation (MTF) and associated organisations, civil society organisations related to community work and tourism, tour operators and non-governmental organisations are expected to take part in the conference. It is jointly organised by Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF), MCRB and Myanmar Responsible Tourism Institute (MRTI) with the support of GIZ Myanmar, which is the Myanmar team of the German government’s international development aid organisation GIZ. The forum, going to take place from June 6 to 8, will raise opportunities and challenges involved with responsible t o u r i s m d e v e l o p m e n t a m o n g communities in Myanmar, being a local entrepreneur and operating a tourism business in communities and the role of communities in the tourism destination planning process.
The main purpose of the conference is to provide a dialogue platform on opportunities and challenges for responsible tourism development among communities in Myanmar as capacity building is particularly important for the development of the Community Based Tourism (CBT) projects that will attract tourists to the country and benefit local communities through incomes.
The first time the National Conference on Communities and Tourism was held was in 2015, when the HSF, MRTI and MCRB jointly organised the event in December that year in Nay Pyi Taw. A total of six community tourism initiatives of Myaing, Indawgyi, Pa-O Region, Kayah State, Upper Ayeyarwady dolphin project, and Thandaunggyi was presented at the forum. The discussion concluded that community tourism initiatives would not succeed without communities being mobilised and supported over a long period to help them understand and access the market, and that, like other small businesses, Community Involved Tourism (CIT) projects needed simple, ‘light touch’ regulation and basic training. Another conclusion was that monitoring results, sharing lessons and networking with other projects were valuable.
The second conference also took place in Nay Pyi Taw in 2017 from June 13 to 14, attended by over 150 participants including existing community tourism projects as well as new initiatives, tour companies, international experts and parliamentarians representing the areas where communities had expressed interest to participate in tourism. The second NCCT aimed to enhance learning from the successful community-based tourism initiatives in Myanmar which were already up and running, and inspire the development of new community tourism products. The six community tourism initiatives presented at the first conference spoke about their successful experiences of the last couple of years.
The conference also sought to highlight the challenges faced by projects, including regulatory hurdles, skills gaps, and marketing. Common challenges included continued restrictions on access and overnight stays by foreigners which reduced local earning potential, lack of skilled human resources and lack of local knowledge about what foreign tourists want and how they behave. All the projects highlighted the importance to the community tourism experience of promoting environmental awareness, and protecting and building pride in and knowledge of local culture which was particularly interested by foreign visitors.
In his speech at the 2nd NCCT, Dr. Nicole Haeusler who was adviser to GIZ and MRTI explained that terminology such as Community Based Tourism (CBT) tended to involve projects in communities such as tours and overnight stays. However Community Involved Tourism (CIT) on which the Myanmar government adopted a policy in 2013 with the support of HSF, could be regarded as both CBT and communities producing items for the tourism supply chain, such as food, hotel furnishings and souvenirs. However whatever the term used, whether CIT or CBT, the most important factor for sustainable success was genuine community participation and entrepreneurship, and not a topdown approach. The forum also discussed updates on marketing and technology which could be used to promote community tourism and networking initiatives to help projects share their experience and skills. A number of products from crafts and souvenir enterprises were also presented at the event through panel discussion and stalls.
Myanmar, which lags much behind neighbouring countries when it comes to international visitor arrivals, is now emphasising ecotourism and CBT as part of its efforts to promote the industry, since it boasts rich natural assets, cultural heritage and a wide variety of ethnic nationalities. The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism has designated 21 ecotourism sites across the country where strict rules for development will apply. Myanmar has placed tourism among a set of industries designed into a prioritised development framework for having high potential to play a vital role in pursuit of national economic development. As tourism is a labour-intensive industry, it is forecast to generate over a million new jobs by 2020. Most of these jobs are direct employment in the food and beverage, transport services and accommodation sectors. Total tourismrelated employment, including direct, indirect and induced employment generated through industry supply chains, is forecast to create roughly two million new jobs by 2020.
However, tourism is a diverse and pervasive activity that requires strong coordination of investments by the public and private sectors, experts said. And the roles of government in tourism planning and management are many and extensively varied. A wide variety of policies, laws and related procedures will influence the tourism-related measures and tourism governance areas.
The Myanmar Tourism Master Plan (MTMP), which suggests that 25 ministries have tourism-related roles and responsibilities, says coordination across government ministries and departments is critical to promote a whole of government approach to sector development. It also notes that “responsible tourism”, as a marketoriented strategic objective that seeks to ‘do no harm’ and maximise the sector’s potential to alleviate poverty, demands a whole of government approach to sector planning and management. It is also an approach that requires close collaboration between the government and associations representing the tourism industry’s private sector.
Myanmar enjoyed all time high tourist arrivals of 450,541 in December 2015. While the World Economic Forum ranked Myanmar 134th out of the 141 countries it surveyed in its Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index 2015 to be just behind Haiti and ahead of Burundi, the MTMP that runs from 2013 to 2020 projects tourist arrivals to hit 7.49 million in 2020.