Written by Dr. Andrea Valentin, Director of Tourism Transparency.
|The “Land of Golden Pagodas” has gained considerable popularity as a tourist destination since 2011. The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism (MoHT) estimates that 3 million tourists arrived in Myanmar in 2014 . The previous year, 2,044,307 tourists visited, representing an astonishing 93% increase compared with the year prior. While the official tourism statistics are said to be exaggerated – the numbers have been contested by many tourism stakeholders including the Ministry of Immigration – it is clear that tourism is booming and many things are needed to cope with the sudden increase in demand, including hotel rooms, knowledge about the tourism sector, as well as new tourist products and activities.|
|The story of tourism development in Myanmar is a complex one. The industry can offer a path out of poverty, where millions live below the poverty line, yet some tourism destinations have been developed without consultation or compensation of the people that live on the land, and without including local communities. Myanmar’s tourism growth has caused numerous land displacements in the past, particularly during the preparations for ‘Visit Myanmar Year 1996’, when people had to make way for resorts to be built. Similar land grabs are still ongoing to date. Illegal land confiscations, lack of community involvement in emerging destinations and the lack of ease of establishing small guesthouses threaten the promising sustainable and responsible tourism processes set up by MoHT, who introduced the Myanmar Responsible Tourism Policy and the Do’s and Don’ts for Tourists in 2012, the Community Involvement in Tourism Policy in 2013 and the Myanmar Tourism Master Plan in 2013. The passing of the documents were absolutely unprecedented at the time, however, the lack of implementation of responsible tourism development undermines MoHT’s credibility.|
|Arguably few things have changed so much as the tourism sector in Myanmar since reforms began in 2011. While many human rights defenders say not much has changed, most agree that the presence of tourists is one of the more visible changes to the country overall. The problem, many say, is that the benefits of the lucrative tourism industry still remain in the hands of a smallish elitist group of people who control a large proportion of land. Therefore it is unclear how the increase in visitors is absorbed on the ground and whether the communities get a fair share. Tourism can create many jobs and income opportunities, but in order to do so, the negative socio-cultural, economic and environmental impacts of tourism must be closely observed and managed.|
|How Myanmar’s Responsible Tourism Policy’s core aim “to use tourism to make Myanmar a better place to live in” has been realized in reality is the focus of Tourism Transparency’s work; we are a small NGO that campaigns for a responsible and accountable tourism industry in Myanmar. Our work focuses on providing a better understanding of both positive and negative impacts of tourism. Our latest research on tourism development and land use will be published in December 2015. If you’d like to learn more about us, please check out our websites:
 Myanmar Ministry of Hotels and Tourism Statistics, available at http://www.myanmartourism.org/