Myanmar just recently opened up for “mass tourism” and we are seeing an increase in the number of tourist arrivals. When we think about the possible impact of these new arrivals on local communities, it raises the importance of creating and maintaining sustainable tourism to the benefit of everybody involved.
Ranked by land area, Myanmar is the largest country in South East Asia, followed by Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia. However, most of Myanmar’s over 54 million people have no experience with foreign tourists and the effect it may have on them. As we welcome more and more foreign tourists to Myanmar, our tour operators and our guests have to be very sensitive to the impact our presence will have on these people.
What we understand with “sustainable tourism”.
We agree with the definition by the World Commission on Environment and Development that sustainable tourism means “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,”. The World Tourism Organisation goes a step further to explain it as the “management of all resources in such a way that economic, social, and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity, and life support systems.”
At Pro Niti Travel we also believe that sustainable tourism benefits everyone involved and not just one-half of the equation. Therefore, tourism in Myanmar should not be a one-way street, but everyone involved in tourism, directly or indirectly, should be benefiting from it in one way or another.
We often hear the words “eco-friendly” and “eco-tourism”. Not only has this term been abused and over-used due to the marketing power behind the term “eco”, but the term is also mainly focused on the environment and its protection for the next tourist behind us. We fully support the notion that our commitment to sustainable tourism also includes current and future needs of the local community, their culture and traditions, way of life, economic welfare and their personal development.
We support the “three-pillars” approach
Pro Niti Travel believes and supports the “three pillars” of sustainable tourism, namely Environmental Sustainability, Economic Sustainability, and Socio-Cultural Sustainability.
Everything we as tour operators and our guests do, will have an important role in any, or all, of these three pillars. We have choices on how to spend the tourist money, where to spend it and to make sure our money is used to support the three pillars of sustainable tourism. Its all about making wise and informed choices to bring about positive changes to Myanmar.
Initiatives of Pro Niti Travel to support sustainable tourism
Here are a few initiatives which Pro Niti Travel and our guests should support to create and maintain sustainable tourism in Myanmar. While we may not yet be successful in each of our endeavours, we are working on it every day! Please think about each item and how the choices we make can have an effect on the local people.
A) Environmental Sustainability
The objective here is to protect the environment. Think about “green tourism” and “eco-friendly” tourism.
- When snorkelling or scuba diving, don’t touch or step on the corals or unnecessarily stir up sediment as it damages the reef’s fragile ecosystem.
- When hiking, stay on the marked trails to avoid harming the native fauna and flora.
- When hiking, bring along a small reusable bag and pick up any trash we spot along our hike. If nobody picks up the trash, then let us hikers pick it up and stop passing the bucket to someone behind us.
- When doing grocery shopping, be an example to the shoppers around us and bring along a reusable bag for our purchases. Plastic bags are so harmful to the environment and should be phased out.
- Travel with small group tour operators as they tend to have less of an environmental impact.
- Insist on visiting wild animals in their natural habitat or in well-managed animal sanctuaries rather than visiting animal parks where tamed wild animals are used for tourist entertainment such as playing football in front of a paying crowd. Never go on elephant rides. Never!
- Avoid any wildlife tours that promise close encounters or hands-on encounters with animals. Choose tour operators that don’t disturb wildlife. This means: Do not ride on elephants, do not get in the enclosures of tigers to walk and pat them.
- Never feed wildlife for any reason. Feeding wild animals make them habituated to, and reliant, on humans and may lead to attacks and likely the subsequent putting down of the animal.
- Keep a respectful distance from wildlife. If you are close enough to attract a wild animal’s attention then it means you are way too close.
- Don’t buy anything made from endangered plants or animals, and that includes buying anything made of unsustainable hardwood forests and ancient artefacts.
- Do not buy souvenir photos from anyone exploiting wildlife such as performing bears or elephants. Never have your photo taken by someone with a performing monkey or snake or any wild animal. Never support anyone using these animals as a means of income.
B) Economic Sustainability
The objective is to make wise decisions about how our tourist money is spent to ensure its benefits are spread across local communities rather than to only benefit large hotel chains or even out-of-country suppliers.
- Get off the beaten tracks and away from tourist crowds to help to spread the economic benefit of tourism to places that get less than the tourist hotspots.
- Show preference to locally produced products that support the local communities. Whether you buy food, clothing, souvenirs, or arts and crafts – buy locally produced products rather than imports.
- Support indigenous artisans and try to buy directly from these artists to help them support their families and it helps to preserve their culture.
- Carefully select tour operators who give back to the local communities, who hire local guides and take a leading role in preserving the area’s natural resources and cultural heritage.
- Give more than you take from the local communities you visit and take photos of. This can include signing up for volunteer work, sharing your culture, sharing your tourist money, and just sharing your good heart and respectful behaviour.
C) Socio-Cultural Sustainability
Tourism can have a profound impact on local culture and lifestyles. The objective is to leave only positive influences on the local people with little, or no change, to their way of life.
- Don’t support any businesses who solely cater to tourists (in particular foreign tourists) as over time such businesses will take over the retail landscape of the local community and have a significant impact on the local community.
- Support local artists and do not buy from vendors who peddle tacky souvenirs made in foreign countries.
- Support restaurants who prepare local cuisines rather than those who offer foreign food that some tourists may prefer.
- Be open minded and foster a more engaging travel experience by respecting the local cultures and traditions regardless of how different they may be from what you are used to. Embrace our differences so you encourage others to hold on to what makes them unique.
- Before you arrive, do a little research on the local customs and traditions so that you can talk and behave appropriately. It also helps to learn a few local phrases so you can show your interest in the local language.
- Be very discreet when taking photos of people. If you are taking a close-up portrait, politely ask for permission before taking a photo.
- Have no boundaries to immerse yourself in the local cultures. Part of the travel experience is getting an opportunity to step outside our comfort zone and experience different foods, different music, and different cultures. Never openly show disapproval.
None of the above is difficult to comply with and we know most travellers will have no issues with following these objectives during their travels. The choices we make can have a significant impact on the local people today, tomorrow, and in the long term. Lets make smart choices and protect the local people and the environment, while leaving a positive impact on everything and everybody were come across directly or indirectly.
Pro Niti Travel.