Dr. Andrea Valentin is the founder of Tourism Transparency, an NGO campaigning for an open and accountable tourism industry. Dr. Valentin recently returned from Burma’s first Responsible Tourism Conference held in Naypyidaw.
|Dr. Andrea Valentin|
Answer: 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.
Q: In your recent commentary at DVB [Democratic Voice of Burma], you pointed out that many of those who benefit from Burma’s tourism sector under the 1990 Tourism Act are government cronies and rich businessmen, not the local residents. Do you think that Burma’s tourism policy will incorporate poverty elimination objectives in the near future? What were your impressions at the Naypyidaw conference?
A: My impression was that the Myanmar Ministry of Hotels and Tourism (MoHT) and the Myanmar Tourism Board (MTB) are making extraordinary efforts. On the first day, no less than 22 ministries attended the public sector workshop and spoke with each other about tourism for the first time. On the second day, tourism businesses discussed how to include responsible tourism; and on the third day, international speakers spoke about how to take responsibility for tourism.
The conference was on not about whether, but how responsible tourism could become central to tourism development. The Tourism Ministry recognizes the need for a unified government approach to develop tourism responsibly.