Tourism is the fastest-growing sector in Myanmar’s economy with a top priority. Ecotourism creates a great opportunity to maintain the country’s natural resources in the long-term protection and save irreplaceable biodiversity. It is also an important form of conservation intervention for wildlife monitoring, education, socio-economic development, and law enforcement.
Ecotourism as a solution
Conservationists think that ecotourism is an alternative to have a halfway solution to safeguard the wildlife and provide income to the local community. The nature-focused form of tourism has to operate in an environmentally responsible and sustainable way by educating locals and tourists about the critical reason of protecting wildlife and natural capitals.
Ecotourism is about creating a better livelihood for local people and better environmental friendly tourism sites. When promoting ecotourism, everyone should make sure that it is responsible and can attain sustainable development without economic, social and environmental issues. We also need to maximize economic, social and environmental benefits and minimize the social challenges.
Ecotourism as environmental conservation and economic development
Ecotourism can provide a unique opportunity to solve multiple objectives with the creation of economic values by environmental conservation, development of green financing for protected area management and environmental education awareness for local people. It is essential to engage in the ecotourism management to make sure that the negative impacts of tourism are well minimized so that natural resources will sustain and environmental conservation will be long-lasting.
When ecotourism is planned properly, it can both boost economic growth and comfort nature conservation in order to provide livelihood benefit for the social welfare of local communities. To develop socio-economic values with ecotourism contribution, the government needs to develop strong policies by upgrading infrastructure to encourage sustainable ecotourism growth.
Ecotourism is a way to empower communities to handle tourism growth and gain community aspirations for their social well-being that consist of social, economic, and environmental sustainable developments. Tourism with environmental conservation perspective is mostly managed and owned jointly with the communities for enabling visitors to increase awareness about wildlife and natural resources and help the livelihood of local people.
As an example, Mahamyaing Wildlife Sanctuary (MWS) in Sagaing Region hosts a variety of Asian wildlife. Communities living in that area rely on hunting and farming for their livelihoods. However, they are empowered with an alternative career to natural resource extraction through land rights and conservation education. As a collaboration, community-based conservation effort is implemented by sharing responsibilities.
The start of ecotourism and challenges for implementation
In 2015, the first International Conference on Ecotourism launched the ecotourism policy in Myanmar. But, there are conflicts with the local people for their livelihood, such as hunting and farming, which are still posting challenges to implement the ecotourism plan. People in the villages from wildlife sanctuaries rely on hunting for their living. Thus, it is not easy to implement ecotourism when local people do not cooperate. Apart from the hunters, farmers are spreading their crop cultivation areas to nearby villages. Therefore, we need to create job opportunities to make alternative income for the local community for implementing ecotourism.
In Myanmar, Sagaing Region possesses the second biggest protected area and is home to the Majamyaing and Htamanthi wildlife sanctuaries. Despite having that kind of opportunity, the regional government is struggling to start up ecotourism site because of the lack of money for implementation. Due to the lack of good management, these areas are faced with deforestation and thus intensive rehabilitation is required. Security guards should be well-equipped to protect forests from hunters and illegal loggers. In order to attract tourists, the infrastructure needs to be upgraded by considering environmental impacts.
Recommendation for further development
The government should actively work to raise awareness of the law among the businesses, citizens, tourists and within the public sector. Currently, Myanmar has encountered a lack of awareness in the tourism business and communities across a range of areas such as environmental protection, labor law, education, and child labor. The use of land and natural resources is a controversial issue in Myanmar, especially in conflict areas. Thus, transparency is required to implement laws and policies so that every stakeholder can participate and ecotourism can be developed. In addition, tourists, community and business have to pay attention to waste management, since it can be a big problem in tourism sites in the future.
As a natural-capital rich country, Myanmar should manage ecotourism sites well as an alternative for sustainability and conservation with eco-friendly accommodation, adventures and socio-cultural tours. As a good example, Thailand is a popular destination in Southeast Asia with plenty of green space and natural parks. Thailand’s case shows that good communication and cooperation between stakeholders and policymakers are important to lead tourism development. Policies need to be consistent with the planning and operation of ecotourism strategy. In addition, these eco-friendly sites need to be for the long-term with the contribution of the community.
As sustainable tourism is a way to develop the economy for developing countries, Myanmar needs to manage ecotourism will for the country’s environmental, social and economic benefits. There can be challenges in the implementation process. However, if these issues are handled well, livelihood in the rural area can be developed and we can expect to narrow the development gap in the country.
Myanmar Tourism Sector-Wide Impact Assessment, Exclusive Summary and Recommendations in 2015
Ko Ko Thett, 2012, Responsible Tourism in Myanmar: Current Situation and Challenges