Myanmar needs to take care in how it develops its tourism to avoid the potential for negative impacts on the environment, society and human rights, according to a report just out.
The “Myanmar Tourism Sector-Wide Impact Assessment” makes recommendations to government, businesses, civil society groups, tourists and other stakeholders intended to increase positive impacts and reduce negative impacts.
The assessment, released on February 20, was led by the Danish Institute for Human Rights in partnership with the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business and the Institute for Human Rights and Business, and is aimed at supporting responsible business practices in tourism, a growing sector of Myanmar’s economy.
The report warns that a rush of tourists could negatively affect Myanmar’s cultural heritage, and that the authorities might be wise to focus on a smaller, higher-spending market than a mass market which could see the country swamped, with all the negative fall-out that accompanies poorly planned schemes.
Vicky Bowman, director of the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, said that at the moment, there's too much focus on hard infrastructure and in particular, hotel construction.
“Myanmar needs to rein in the rush to create so-called ‘hotel zones’, where land is compulsorily acquired for multiple hotels, often on environmentally sensitive sites. Our field research repeatedly showed that many of the negative impacts we found were associated with hotel zones. What is needed - as the government's own Master Plan identified - is participatory destination management and a ‘zonal planning’ approach, which is not the same thing as establishing a ‘hotel zone’,” she said.
Mr Alan Jorgensen, speaking on behalf of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, said engagement, consultation and participation of stakeholders should form the basis of tourism development projects from the very start.
“This is particularly important in ethnic minority and post-conflict areas where tourism business should take the time to understand the conflict and communal dynamics, and how local people would like to see the destination opened to tourists and benefits shared,” he said.
The report highlights the significant job creation and poverty alleviation potential of tourism, but emphasizes the need for sustainability, care of the environment and protection of rights.