Friday, August 18, 2017

Responsible tourism policy goes to cabinet

A recently drafted responsible tourism policy has been approved by the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism and will go before the cabinet for approval, a tourism expert involved in the creation of the policy said last week.

The policy was officially approved by the ministry on September 27 and will be used as the foundation for a tourism master plan, said Mr Achim Munz, the resident representative of Hanns Seidel Foundation, which helped draft the document.

The policy has nine major aims, including spreading the benefits of tourism broadly, integrating the industry into national development plans, maintaining cultural diversity and authenticity, conserving the environment, training the local work force and minimising unethical practices.

Mr Munz said the wide participation in drafting the policy, including more than 350 tourism industry stakeholders from both the public and private sector, was an essential element for its success.

“Sustainable tourism development can only come if we take responsibility [for implementation]. … The policy itself will do nothing ... it’s the stakeholders that support the policy that make things happen. The policy should provide guidance and direction [for the industry],” Mr Munz said last week.

He said he hoped that all tourism stakeholders would embrace the policy and use it as a “guiding instrument”.

“A very important thing to highlight is the process of [drafting the] policy. We discussed it with many ministries, the approach was very participatory. I don’t think there is a country in Southeast Asia where officials from more than 20 ministries have sat down together to discuss a policy like this. It is a start and a platform to work from,” he added.

“The ministry can’t develop tourism on its own; it needs support from other ministries, the private sector and civil society.”

Hanns Seidel Foundation, Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, Myanmar Tourism Federation and individuals from the private and public sectors drafted the policy following consultation meetings across the country. The draft was then presented and discussed at a conference in Nay Pyi Taw on June 5.

“We went to some tourist destinations such as Bagan, Inle Lake, Taunggyi and Yangon and talked directly with hoteliers, travel companies and members of the public,” Mr Munz said.

The policy survived the removal of tourism minister U Tint Hsan, who was replaced by U Htay Aung in a reshuffle last month.

Speaking at a conference on responsible tourism in Nay Pyi Taw on June, U Htay Aung, the then-deputy minister said the ministry was conscious of the need to spread the benefits of tourism.

“We are fully aware that the success of tourism can be judged by … the net benefit to the country and its people,” he said.

Mr Munz said industry stakeholders also needed to think about how to encourage domestic tourism as well. “Some domestic visitors are likely to spend twice as much money as international visitors … this is very important as a solid base for economic growth. Stakeholders need to realise that.”

Mr Suki Singh, general manger of Inle Lake Hotel, said tourism needed to “be sensitive towards the environment, the culture, traditions and preservation of both natural and cultural attributes”.

He said the new policy was a “critical step” for the industry, as it came at a time when Myanmar appears likely to embark on a sustained period of economic growth.

“I believe all stake holders will be mindful of their individual and collective responsibilities of how to contribute towards sustainable tourism. The policy is a guideline and will evolve over time and improve,” Mr Singh said.