View on Mrauk U right after sunrise from Shwetaung pagoda. Source Wikipedia. Image credit Jmhullot

 

Is the conservation of heritage sites and mass tourism compatible? THE IRRAWADDY of Burma and Southeast Asia asked Dr Andrea Valentin, founder of Tourism Transparency, an NGO campaigning for an open and accountable tourism industry, and recently returned from Burma’s first Responsible Tourism Conference held in Naypyidaw, to define responsible tourism and the difference between that and traditional tourism; also what benefits responsible tourism would bring to Burma –

Responsible tourism offers a solution to the problems caused by mass tourism. It’s about travelling in a better way and taking responsibility for the impacts that our actions have socially and economically on others and on their social, cultural and natural wellbeing. It minimizes negative impacts, involves local people in decisions, improves working conditions and contributes to conservation of natural and cultural heritage. Responsible tourism is culturally sensitive, generates respect between host and guest, and provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through meaningful connections with locals. It can bring great benefits to travelers, the host population and the tourism business, without causing intolerable ecological and social damage.

The demand for responsible tour operations is definitely on the rise worldwide, and businesses following responsible tourism standards increase profitability. Personally I think this is more than a passing trend, because responsible tourism is a consumer-based counter to the mass production of tourism.

Of course there are many problems with responsible tourism. It seems everything has gone green these days. Not long ago tourism was one of the least likely industries to have an ethical dimension, but today we are seeing more and more claims about being carbon-neutral, sustainable, organic, eco, green or responsible. Green-washing is a real threat. When a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be green than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact, we speak of ‘green-washing.’ This is a big problem for sustainability.

During my pro-poor tourism talk at the Responsible Tourism conference in Naypyidaw, I stressed that the long-term success for sustainable tourism in Myanmar [Burma] depends on whether it can deliver development to civil society, especially the poor and poorest. I suggested that government take steps to strengthen the pro-poor benefits of tourism. I mentioned to businesses to embrace pro-poor tourism by adapting their supply chain and facilitating partnerships with the poor. There are many partnership models for locals to benefit from tourism—but we need fair land and resource rights. Businesses could offer microfinance aimed at promising small businesses, or create rural cooperative societies. Such initiatives could be coupled with rural manufacturing and cottage industries. The government could create incentives for companies to invest and operate in pro-poor ways.
 
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