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Traditional Burmese spinners at work. Image credit Tourism Transparency
Continuing our theme on responsible tourism, an anecdote by a New Zealand museum curator, also an experienced and politically aware traveller to Burma, shows how responsible tourists can make a difference to the people and places they visit.
I’m going to tell you a little story, which is so typical of why I love travelling so much. I have been to Burma many times, yet on this particular trip I travelled up north to Putao in Kachin State. I hired a truck and driver from one of the churches so I could visit a nearby village as there was no public transport. All along the way the truck stopped to pick up people walking along the road. As they jumped off they would give me a big smile of thanks and a wave.
As we passed through a small village a man told me that the daughter of a woman living there had gone to live in New Zealand. On the way back I stopped and visited the old lady. She was a tiny soul, bent over but full of smiles and friendship. Her traditional house and garden were spotlessly clean. Through my friend I asked her about her daughter and took some photos. I also got her daughter’s address in Auckland, so when I got back to New Zealand I printed some enlarged photos of the mother and sent them off to her daughter who she hadn’t seen for years.
A few days later I had a lovely letter in the mail and then a phone call from the woman – almost in tears with emotion. She hadn’t seen a photo of her mother since leaving Burma 10 years ago. I could tell her all about her mother’s house and garden and her neighbours and an old school friend that she went to school with. She was so thankful and full of joy.
Now, who would dare tell me I can’t travel to Burma? Such are the joys of travel.
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.