Can community based tourism boost Myanmar’s economy?

  • By Kyaw Htike Soe
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Fresh green vegetable plantations of the Community based tourism (CBT) in Kyaikthale Village in Twantay Township. Photos: Mingalar BaR Bio garden community based Tourism

Community based tourism (CBT) is tourism in which local residents invite tourists to visit their communities with the provision of overnight stay. The local residents earn income as land managers, entrepreneurs, service and produce providers, and employees. There are many benefits to community-based tourism, for both the local community and visitors. Ecotourism and community-based tourism can go hand-in-hand. Community-based tourism is sustainable, providing environmentally-friendly experiences and attractions.
Supporting environmentally-friendly CBT projects can ensure that the environment, as well as other attractions, remains for generations to come. The CBT provides opportunities for local people to bring in income and also to introduce their culture to visitors. The CBT can provide income and opportunities for all people, including women and other disadvantaged groups such as people with disabilities. In addition, the CBT gives local people a chance to share their culture with the world, as well as learn more about other peoples’ cultures and experiences. Tourism activities should not damage the local community’s way of life or traditions. Safety is important to CBT travelers, especially because some developing countries are politically unstable. Most international tour operators do not offer holidays to the countries that their respective governments have declared unsafe.
This has previously led to a sharp fall in tourism arrivals in African countries such as Mali, Egypt and Kenya. Popular adventure activities for CBT travelers are walking, trekking and cycling. Most CBT travelers want to have some access to the Internet – at least every few days, although they understand that this can be hard in remote areas. They usually bring their own electronic devices, like smart phones, tablets or laptops. Sustainable and ethical tourism is very important to CBT tourists. CBT travelers are generally interested in culture, adventure and interaction with locals. According to the industry experts, popular CBT destinations around the world include Bolivia, Cuba, Indonesia, Laos, Morocco, and Tanzania. Tourists prefer CBT to enjoy its natural sceneries, and at the same time the locals will have a chance to communicate with foreigners.

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Tourists visit a CBT village in Meiktila Township, Mandalay Region.  Photo: IPRD

The CBT will help local residents reduce poverty rate in the area and contribute to improve their socioeconomic status. The local governments need to open up its unspoiled beach and natural sceneries to the world where globetrotters can observe honesty, openness and customs of local people. The CBT has played a small role in Myanmar’s tourism boom. Visitors at home and abroad visit some villages which are located in the Ayeyawady River to observe bamboo handicraft industry and Ayeyawady dolphins. Local authorities are trying efforts to sell a wide range of bamboo handicrafts to the CBT visitors. Some tourists are very interested in the river cruise tours along Ayeyawady and Chindwin Rivers to enjoy the natural scenery of riverbed villages, visit elephant camps and observe living style of marine workers and traditional pottery industry. The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism is making concerted efforts to promote the CBT initiative in the country in joining hands with the local governments, and NGOs and establishing CBT villages to attract more tourists to the country.
Tourists flocked to a pilot CBT village in Meiktila Township in Mandalay Region, according to a programme officer from ActionAid Myanmar. “The community-based tourism was first initiated in Myaing Township, Magway Region in 2014 by ActionAid Myanmar. The pilot project in Swartaw Village, Meiktila Township in Mandalay Region was launched at the end of 2018. Tourists from ASEAN countries, South Korea, Australia, United States, Nigeria, and other countries visited our pilot project to observe customs and traditions of rural people, agriculture and livestock breeding in rural area,” he added. He continued that foreigners visited the pilot CBT village with the arrangement of some tour operators in Yangon. Representatives from ActionAid Myanmar are in consultation with village officials to continue implementation of the CBT village in January, he said.
In Myanmar’s neighbours such as Thailand, Laos and India, hundreds of theCBT programs have been successfully implemented by local communities, with support from the governments, tour operators and NGOs. Thriving CBT industry inspires tourists, promotes cross-cultural understanding, promotes skills, create job opportunities and increase the income of local communities. With its mix of culture, history, and unspoiled natural beauty, Myanmar has quickly become one of the Asia’s top emerging tourist destinations. Myanmar has emerged in recent years as a top tourist destination in the Southeast Asian Region known for its tourism attractions. Since the country opened its doors through reform processes in 2011, many tourists have been attracted to its diverse landscapes, rich culture and heritages.
Tourism development is considered to be a top priority in Myanmar. Tourism continues to grow in Myanmar, with the skyrocketing number of visitor arrivals to the country on the rise. The CBT could become an alternative source of income for the local communities. Myanmar government’s decision to ease visa regulations on tourists from Asia countries has considerably encouraged the increase of tourist arrivals to the country in the first ten months of 2019. With the prevalence of peace and stability coupled with a variety of scenic beauties, ancient cultural heritages, temples, pagodas, icy mountains, and natural beaches, tourist arrivals to Myanmar have increased significantly when compared to previous years. Myanmar aims to welcome seven million tourists by 2020.
The Southeast Asian country fetched some US$ 2 billion from 3.55 foreign visitor arrivals in 2018 and earned US$ 1.9 billion from 3.44 million tourist arrivals in 2017. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), total contribution of tourism sector to Myanmar’s economy was US$ 4.9 billion or 66.6 % of GDP in 2017. Total contribution of tourism is forecast to expand by 7 % per year to US$ 10.1 billion or 7 % of GDP by 2028. The number of people working in tourism-related jobs was more than 580,000 in 2018, making up over 2.5 % of total employment. By 2028 the sector is forecast to directly account for 914,000 job opportunities, an average increase of 4.6 annually over the next decade.
Ref: Niti Travel, ADB,

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