Striving for Sustainable Tourism in Myanmar

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This article was originally written and published by Australian Volunteers program here, which is funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFIT) and managed by VEGA Member AVI.​ ​The Australian Volunteers program provides opportunities for skilled Australians to contribute to the Australian Government’s aid program​. In 2017-18, the program will support 1,000 volunteers in 26 countries with a budget of approximately $42.6 million.

Myanmar has experienced significant tourism growth in the last decade. Tourists are attracted to Myanmar’s rich culture, including archaeological sites, glittering pagodas, colorful festivals and arts, as well as its wide range of natural environments. In 2015, more than four million tourists visited Myanmar, an increase from approximately 650,000 in 2006/7. [i] Several Australian volunteers have completed assignments in Myanmar where they have supported local communities to participate in economic opportunities provided by tourism.

Two local organisations focused on developing sustainable tourism are the Myanmar Tourism Federation (MTF) and the Myanmar Responsible Tourism Institute (MRTI). The MTF is an umbrella organisation for 11 tourism associations, including the Myanmar Hoteliers Association, the Union of Myanmar Travel Association and Myanmar Tourism Marketing. The Federation promotes Myanmar as a tourism destination and focusses on sustainable tourism development. MTF works closely with Myanmar’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism and has supported the development of the Responsible Tourism Policy, the Tourism Master Plan and the Policy on Community Involvement in Tourism.

Australian volunteer Marlo Perry is currently on her second volunteer assignment in Myanmar. During her first year-long assignment with the MTF in 2015, Marlo was involved in some of Myanmar’s first community-based tourism projects, including the town of Thandaunggyi.

Thandaunggyi is one of the less well known hill stations established during British colonial times and, until recently, the area was not open to tourists. With easy access to Yangon and offering cultural sights, hiking trails, natural attractions and authentic local experiences, the MTF has identified the potential for tourism opportunities. Thandaunggyi was granted the first ‘Bed and Breakfast’ licenses for small-scale accommodation to host international tourists. This was a significant achievement for the region and serves as a model for similar destinations.

In her current volunteer assignment with the Myanmar Responsible Tourism Institute, Marlo is continuing to support the development of sustainable tourism in Thandaunggyi by providing support to the Thandaunggyi Tourism Development Working Group.

Social enterprises

Australian volunteers are also supporting social enterprises that enable local communities to participate in the economic opportunities offered by tourism.

Hla Day is a social enterprise working with Myanmar artisans, disadvantaged groups and local businesses to design, develop and sell quality handmade products. It provides a sustainable marketplace, as well as business and design training to support the livelihoods of producers, many of whom are struggling to overcome disability, exclusion and poverty. Hla Day works with more than 40 producer groups, representing around 300 Myanmar people. Seventy per cent of these producers are women.

Australian volunteer Randi Wanger has helped Hla Day develop strategies to assist producer groups to develop their design processes and meet market demands. Her current assignment is focussed on expanding the reach and impact of Hla Day.

Another social enterprise providing economic opportunities to local women is MBoutik. Action Aid developed MBoutik to train women in craft production and develop their business skills. Karen Rieschieck recently completed a volunteer assignment with Action Aid. In her Business Trainer and Mentor role, Karen developed the women producers’ capacity to manage MBoutik.

In this International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, we applaud the organisations and individuals committed to sustainable tourism in Myanmar, and the Australian volunteers helping them achieve their goals.

Marlo, Randi and Karen’s volunteering assignments are part of the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program, an Australian Government initiative.