As Myanmar is emerging fast as an attractive tourist destination in South East Asia, advocacy for the responsible tourism has also increased. Re- sponsible travel is a new way of travelling for those who’ve had enough of mass tour- ism. It’s about respecting and benefiting lo- cal people and the environment. Travelling in a responsible manner promotes a respect for indigenous culture, the minimizing the negative environmental impacts of tour- ism, active participation in volunteering to assist local communities, and the structur- ing of businesses to benefit the final service provider. If you travel for relaxation, fulfill- ment, discovery, and adventure and to learn – rather than simply to tick off ‘places and things’ – then Myanmar could be a truly re- sponsible tourist destination for you.
The governmental statistics body, the Cen- tral Statistical Organization, reported more than 1,000,000 travelers flocked to Myan- mar in 2012, compared with approximate- ly 816,000 visitors in 2011. Among these, 593,391 tourist arrivals (excluding visitors under special entry visas such as social or business visas) were via Yangon Interna- tional Airport. The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism declared tourism the country’s ‘national priority sector’ in its Responsible
Tourism Policy (RTP) in September 2012. In the same month, the Ministry had also signed Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Viet- nam Tourism Cooperation (CLMV), which aims to welcome 25 million visitors in the re- gion, with four million ‘exchange visitors’ in each country, over the period of 2013-2015.
Responsible tourism helps both- the guest and the host. It’s not the beautiful places one sees that stays in your heart, but the people one meets and the experiences one has. “People of Myanmar are very warm and caring” says Ryan Lee who has trav- eled extensively across the globe and writes a regular travel blog. “My experiences in Myanmar created many happy memories and friendships, as well”, adds Ryan. The opposition leader Aung San Su Kyi also sug- gested that responsible travelers can help change Burma. Other pro-boycott activists have also reversed their position on the is- sue recently. Burmese people invariably welcome visitors and, with a little thought, it’s possible to ensure much of the money you spend goes to the private sector. Tour- ism is different from industries such as logging, oil, gas, gems and fishing because it is mainly privately owned. “Please do come! We can learn from you, and you can learn about us,” insists Lee Aung, a tour guide who speaks fluent English. “Myanmar is changing fast. We desperately need to earn foreign money and know-how to help us be- come self-sufficient and catch up with the rest of the world”.
Myanmar is regarded as a land of diverse culture, traditions and natural resources. It is endowed with one of the largest forest covers in the region. More than half of the country is still covered with forests, which are well managed under the Myanmar Se- lection System (MSS).
Forest resources play a dominant role in im- proving the socio-economic life of the peo- ple of the nation. The country is the world’s prime supplier of natural teak, which is one of the pillars of the State’s economy. About 75% of the total population lives in rural ar- eas, depending upon forest resources. The forestry sector provides goods and services for domestic consumption as well as ex- port markets. The protected areas system
is well established with the set-up of parks and sanctuaries. Myanmar is committed to sustainable development of forests and biological resources through accession to a number of international conventions and agreements. In effect, forestry in Myanmar has been well in place, maintaining a bal- ance between environment, development and social needs.
Despite the tourism’s dramatic growth in the last couple of years, the sector faces seri- ous challenges. Number of business visitors and leisurely tourists visiting Myanmar has been rising at an equal pace. This expansion is not without problems and requires sen- sitive handling. One such challenge is the potential risks and problems caused by con- gestion in the main international airports.
According to the report titled ‘Responsible Tourism in Myanmar: Current Situation and Challenges’ by Ko Ko Thett, “If Myan- mar is to avoid the Thai or Cambodian tour- ism pitfalls, the authorities have to be dead serious about their commitment to respon- sible tourism. As China and India are set to become the world’s largest source markets, infrastructure development in Myanmar must focus on managing cross-border tour- ism with the neighbouring countries. Oth- er top priorities must be – making tourism development inclusive and democratic, area protection, and industrial regulation, codes of conduct for all stakeholders, environ- mental impact assessments for each tour- ism project and sustainability indicators.
‘One of the most fascinating aspects of trav- el in Myanmar is the opportunity to experi- ence a corner of Asia that, in many ways, has changed little since British colonial times,’ says the Lonely Planet. It remains to be seen how this place of authenticity will be re- shaped by mass tourism as a force of global- ization in the near future, and how the state of Myanmar will responsibly respond to the challenges brought about by mass tourism.