Tourism a double-edged sword for Myanmar?

Myanmar’s stunning temples, beaches and landscapes are luring tourists from across the globe.

As Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi prepares to formally take her seat in Parliament next week, ready to welcome tourists to the country, some are asking if Myanmar is ready (and willing) to accept the almost inevitable ‘bad’ tourist for the good.

The region is well-known for tourism, with Thailand consistently ranking high on travelers’ bucket lists and Myanmar’s own tourism revenue doubling to US$319 million last year compared to 2008, the International Herald Tribune reported.

However, according to Tourism Transparency founder Andrea Valentin, Myanmar must tread carefully if following in the footsteps of its neighbors.

“The lessons to learn are pretty straightforward: If Burma wants to have more prostitutes than monks in the country, then they should follow Thailand’s tourism development approach,” Ms Valentin told online news site The Irawaddy.

Last year, the National League for Democracy, Ms Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, said they would welcome tourists “keen to promote the welfare of the common people and the conservation of the environment”.

This is a long way from Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s protest in 1999 when she said, “Burma will be here for many years, so tell your friends to visit us later. Visiting now is tantamount to condoning the regime”.

Things have changed in the thirteen years since, with the United States this week easing restrictions on the operation of non-governmental groups in Myanmar and with international wholesalers itching to bring tourists to the country.

Meanwhile, the world is watching and advocacy and rights groups remain vigilant.

Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation executive director Rachel Durchslag wrote in the Huffington Post of the dangers of sex tourism, stating that “many of those being purchased for sex are victims of human trafficking or individuals with extremely limited life options”.

The travel industry too is more aware of the sometimes subsequent evils of tourism and the industry’s unique role to identify practices such as human trafficking.

Non-profit Airline Ambassadors Incorporated (AAI) and its staunch supporter International Tour Management Institute (ITMI) have come together to bring about an industry-specific human trafficking awareness program.

“ITMI is proud to be working closely with AAI, to provide tourism industry professionals with the tools to recognize suspicious behavior and report it to the Transportation Security Administration or other law enforcement authorities,” ITMI chief executive Ted Bravos said.

At the recent ITMI symposium, ITMI together with the tour directors in attendance raised enough money to build a safe house, which will be dedicated in Haiti later this year.
Source = e-Travel Blackboard: G.A
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