New Tourism Plan Highlights Local Communities 

By Tin Htet Paing 5 May 2016

RANGOON — Burma’s Hotels and Tourism Ministry will emphasize development of community-based tourism as one of the first priorities in its 100-day policy, according to an official statement issued by the ministry earlier this week.

The policy includes a three-pronged strategy for the country’s fast-growing tourism industry—to expand community-based tourism (CBT), build the capacity of the tourism human resources pool and develop existing popular destinations, as well as promoting less frequented locales. The ministry has pledged to begin implementing the plan within the first 100 days of the new National League for Democracy (NLD) administration.

The CBT development plan includes six main pilot projects to be carried out at different destinations around the country: Kachin State’s Indawgyi Lake area; the townships of Loikaw and Thandaunggyi in Karenni and Karen states, respectively; the Pa-O self-administered zone in Shan State; Magwe Division’s Myaing Township; and in Mandalay Division, the Mingun area and Kyauk Myaung village, according to the statement.

The projects aim to empower local communities by helping to establish village-level guesthouses and package tours, enhancing visitor management mechanisms, and highlighting foreign language skills so that guides can attract tourists to local activities such as trekking, bird watching and environmental conservation, the statement says.

According to Myint Htwe, director of the ministry’s public relations and information department, Burma’s tourism industry has put too much focus on cultural tourism and CBT should be used instead, as a new approach for the country to build sustainable tourism.

“Local communities can truly benefit from CBT as it directly engages the lowest levels of the community,” Myint Htwe told The Irrawaddy.

The policy was made in part based on recommendations from the private sector and does not contradict the Ministry of Tourism’s Master Plan 2013-2020, he added.

The Tourism Master Plan was developed with international donors under Burma’s previous government, and envisions spending of nearly US$500 million on training tourism workers, developing destinations and improving connectivity, in an effort to increase annual foreign visitors to 7.5 million by 2020.

Last year, Burma took in nearly 4.7 million foreign visitors, up from just 800,000 in 2011.

When asked about local homestays not being highlighted in the 100-day policy, Myint Htwe said that the ministry would try to set up a homestay system at the appropriate time, and would begin drafting guidelines after hearing recommendations from the private tourism industry. Homestays are currently not allowed in Burma.

“Homestays can only be implemented if local communities accept the idea. Both tourists and locals should have awareness of each other’s cultures and traditions so there is no culture shock,” he added.

“Most importantly, there needs to be peace and stability in the areas where we allow homestays.”

Kyi Thein Ko, the general secretary of the Myanmar Tourism Federation, expressed his support for the ministry’s 100-day plan and said that he would try to help facilitate the strategies.

“Unlike the previous administration, which only focused on [the number of visitors], I believe that the current administration will prioritize the sustainability of the industry,” he said.

Union Tourism Minister Ohn Maung said in a speech in early April that tourism was one of the largest and fastest growing sectors of the global economy, making vital contributions toward generating employment, reducing poverty, empowering women, preserving the environment and building peace.

He added that he believed all of the challenges facing Burma’s tourism industry would be overcome by collaboration between the public and private sectors.

Ohn Maung assumed leadership of the Tourism Ministry when Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD government formed a new cabinet in early April.

Under Burma’s former junta, Suu Kyi discouraged foreigners from traveling to the country, supporting a boycott on the grounds that tourism dollars would flow into the pockets of the military leadership and its crony allies. Since re-engaging in the political process in 2012, however, she has clearly seen the industry’s potential to uplift living standards, and in 2014 founded a hospitality training academy outside of Rangoon to better prepare young people for employment in the sector.