Myanmar has been in the news, as voting began on 8 November for the first elections in 25 years.
Having opened up only relatively recently to mass tourism, I was lucky enough to be taken around Yangon and to Mon State by two friends who work over there. Unlike in other places I’d worked in or visited, in Central Asia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, eastern Europe and Russia, even in the capital there didn’t seem to be much in the way of a tourism industry, of coach tours out of the city, trekking, and so forth. If you didn’t know anyone local, you had to figure out how to get places and do things yourself, guidebook and phrasebook in hand.
Standing in line at the airport on the way home, I saw groups of European retirees, and from what I heard many of them had stayed in the same few luxury hotels. Not many backpackers. That’ll change.
Community-based tourism will hopefully fill the gap in the market, provide visitors with far more interesting experience, and all the while also helping local economies throughout the country.
There’s a bed and breakfast project in Shan State, in the north east of Myanmar, bordering China, Laos and Thailand. The Pa-O Self-Administered Zone is an area where tourists can, hopefully soon, enjoy stunning landscapes, hill tribe culture, village life, traditional meals, and outdoor activities like trekking and biking, all while staying in an ordinary family home.
Three sites are to be piloted, with a community revenue-sharing model established, with a view to seven further sites developed.
It’s being run by the Parami Development Network and Golden Island Cottages, with technical support from the Myanmar Institute for Integrated Development (MIID), funded by Germany’s international development agency, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit. Or GIZ, in grateful brevity.
Tourism brings economic development and the relief of poverty, as Sunday Times writer AA Gill once said, if I’ve remembered it correctly. One among many unexpectedly virtuous moments he has that are frequently drowned out by the righteous indignation of international politicians, restaurateurs, and myriad others that must be seen to object to the offensive charm of what he writes after swinging by. I don’t believe he’s paid Myanmar a visit yet…