Mobilise, Market, Mentor, and Monitor: How to Support Community-Involved Tourism in Myanmar

Myanmar has huge potential for community involved tourism (CIT) projects and a handful have already started. The early lessons from those initiatives are they will not succeed without communities being mobilized and supported over a long period to help them understand and access the market. Like other small businesses, CIT projects need simple, ‘light touch’ regulation and basic training. Monitoring results, sharing lessons and networking with other projects is also valuable.

These were the main conclusions of a multistakeholder workshop on Community Involvement in Tourism in Myanmar held in Naypyidaw from 1-2 December by Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business and Hanns Seidel Foundation.

The workshop was attended by almost 100 participants including communities from some of Myanmar’s first CIT projects, government officials from Ministry of Hotel and Tourism, Environment, Culture and the Tourist Police, Myanmar tourism operators and guides, as well as international NGOs and community-based tourism specialists.

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The meeting was addressed by Minister of Hotels and Tourism HE U Htay Aung. He reiterated the Government’s commitment to the 2013 Community Involved Tourism Policy (2013), developed with the support of Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF).  He spoke of his personal pleasure at inaugurating the Action Aid sponsored CIT project in villages in the Myaing region the previous day. The Chair of Myanmar Tourism Federation U Yan Win also spoke in support of community involvement in tourism in Myanmar.

Communities involved in six CIT initiatives ranging from nature tourism in Indawgyi (Kachin State), and watching Ayarwaddy dolphins north of Mandalay, rural tourism in Pa-O Self-Administered Zone, and Thandaunggyi (Karen State), and village visits in Myaing (Magwe region) and  Dimawhso (Kayah State), shared information about how they had developed their initiatives and challenges they faced.

Conference participants were asked to identify the most important factors contributing to the success or failure for community involved tourism in Myanmar.  The top factors they identified concerned community participation, empowerment, and organisation, reflecting a similar top priority heard at HSF and MCRB’s previous multistakeholder workshop on Responsible Tourism and Human Rights.

Permits for bed’n’breakfast  (B’n’B) accommodation to allow overnight stays in CIT locations were also identified as a key requirement if a community was to earn income from tourism. Overnight stays also meant guests would be better able to understand and enjoy Myanmar culture.  B’n’B licences in Thandaunggyi, Karen State, and the Pa’O area had been issued.  However for communities to start up B’n’B, the process needed to be simple, delegated to, and facilitated by, local authorities.  HSF presented a draft manual being developed for B’n’B operations, based on experience in Asia.

The workshop also discussed how to ensure local people could earn income as local interpretative guides (or ‘tour conductors’), and what training programmes they needed to be effective.  Their role, and that of licensed tour guides, was vital to ensure the three ‘S’s that tourists wanted from their community tourism experience: Safety, Storytelling and Service.

Achim Munz, Resident Representative Hanns Seidel Foundation Myanmar, said:

It is amazing how far we have come since the development of the 2013 Myanmar Community Involved Tourism Policy, when there were few Myanmar initiatives from which we could learn lessons. Today we have community representatives of six projects from across the country. We are starting to see the beginnings of a network who can cooperate to support one another and help other communities begin the journey to CIT.  Successful CIT projects enrich Myanmar’s tourism ecosystem, support the Myanmar brand, and make for a more attractive diversified product.  They are micro-businesses, not charity initiatives. To ensure their voice is heard, and support their growth, communities need long-term mentoring and support.  This support should not just come from the larger development partners, such as GIZ, JICA, DFID and the Netherlands CBI, and NGOs such Action Aid, Wildlife Conservation Society, Hanns Seidel Foundation and Peace Nexus Foundation. It should come from others in Myanmar’s tourism value chain, across the private sector spectrum including the four/five star hotels and tour operators.

Vicky Bowman, Director of Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business added:

With a new government and Hluttaw taking office in early 2016, this workshop was an opportunity for CIT specialists and practitioners to identify what regulatory and policy changes they would like to see at national and local government level.  We talked about changes and initiatives that could make CIT projects easier to get started and more likely to be successful. Our discussions also demonstrated that the range of government Ministries at national and sub-national level needs to understand community involved tourism in order to support its growth. If government makes it easier for CIT projects to do business, this will support the National Export Strategy, of which tourism is one of eight priorities.

Source: Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business. Date: December 7, 2015