At the recent Communities and Tourism Conference in Nay Pyi Taw, representatives from six community tourism initiatives shared their experiences.
The main findings from the conference are that projects struggle to market their services and products, and it’s having a negative effect on community tourism.
The event itself was organised by the Myanmar Responsible Tourism Institute (MRTI), the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB) and the Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF). As well as existing projects, new initiatives, professionals and tour companies took part.
New destinations represented
The new tourist destinations in Myanmar represented at the conference included tours in the Yangon area, trekking in the Danu regions of Shan, Myeik archipelago and tours in Tamarind Lake Village.
The six existing community tourism initiatives that were represented included Thandaunggyi, Myaing, Indawgyi, Pa-O region, Kayah state and the Upper Ayeyarwady dolphin project. Representatives spoke about the challenges they have faced over the last few years.
While there has been an increased number of visitors to these areas (some from overseas and some domestic), and an increased community income from the projects, they all reported facing problems when marketing their products.
Vicky Bowman is the director of MCRB and believes that the challenges are individual to that particular project. For example, one of the most successful projects in Kayah is hindered by low levels of trust by tourists in the post conflict area. This, along with a lack of infrastructure, training and an integrated community approach make it difficult.
Added to this, there is a common thread of having problems when it comes to identifying and targeting the key market demographic, online marketing and how to deal with the lack of visitors in the off season.
They have also identified a lack of understanding of what foreign tourists may expect from a visit, and how they behave. Government permissions regarding overnight stays also confuse the issue, making it difficult for tourist projects to offer a consistent and reliable product.
Community important to tourism in Myanmar
Tourism brings many benefits to remote areas, including job opportunities for local communities and generation of new income through making and selling local products, among others. If jobs can increase then there are reduced numbers leaving remote areas for the city and communities are boosted economically.
Communities are increasingly turning to their MPs to find out how they can get involved, and it’s become clear that there is a lack of clarity surrounding regulations and how people should apply for licences.
Reps at the conference highlighted the need to recognise community tourism as a business that need to be driven by entrepreneurs within the community. This could include people who are making souvenirs, running a guesthouse, or running a café. MRTI advisor Nicole Haeusler said: Sometimes it’s the ordinary things the locals take for granted, like local cooking and farming or travel by oxcart, that the visitor finds most interesting.”
Government support for local communities to be part of the development process and form their own tourism businesses is hoped for in the future.