In Myanmar’s Kayah state, tourism brings jobs and income growth, while helping to build peace
An International Trade Centre tourism project in Myanmar’s Kayah state has led to increased visits, new jobs and higher incomes, while contributing to political reconciliation between local ethnic communities and the state in the once-troubled region.
As part of the inclusive tourism project, which is among a multi-country portfolio of interventions supported by the Dutch government through the Netherlands Trust Fund (NTF III), ITC has conducted training in areas such as food quality and hygiene, development of trekking trails, jungle lunch services, creative and cultural tourism and music and dance performances. Since the beginning of the project, international tourist arrivals to Kayah state have increased from 2,600 in 2014 to an estimated 6,300 for 2016. A percentage of tourism revenues are channelled into a community-managed fund that supports local public goods such as water pumps or road construction.
The project has directly contributed to Kayah state’s internal reconciliation process by facilitating cooperation between all stakeholders, from government authorities to private businesses and local communities. An ITC-supported Kayah state Public Private Dialogue Platform (KPPDP) as well as community tourism development training have served as exercises in building confidence, trust and cooperation by bringing together trainees from government and the private sector, at a state-wide level cutting across ethnic lines, to appreciate the potential of tourism development for poverty reduction and job growth.
ITC’s work in the region has recently received some high-profile attention. In mid-November, Kayah was showcased as “one of southeast Asia’s last frontiers for inspiring, authentic travel” at a top tourism trade fair in London. Meanwhile, in Myanmar, President U Htin Kyaw visited two project sites during his first official tour of the region, building on a similar journey by Vice-President U Henry Van Thio the month before.
At the World Travel Market in London, U Ohn Maung, Myanmar Minister of Hotels and Tourism, declared that “Tourism can bring peace and stability to a country,” and that “ITC’s inclusive tourism project has stabilized peace for Kayah.” He also requested ITC and the project’s funder, the Dutch government, to replicate its tourism value chain approach in a second state in Myanmar.
The minister – himself a tourism entrepreneur in neighbouring Shan state – said that the results achieved by the ITC project were behind the presidential and vice-presidential visits. During his visits to the villages of Hta Nee La Leh and Pan Pet, President U Htin Kyaw said he was impressed with what the project had achieved. He highlighted the importance of setting fair fees for local community guides, and emphasized the relevance of preserving local cultural expressions such as traditional clothing and craft making. In addition, the president pointed to the importance of improving food quality and hygiene for attracting tourists.
ITC has worked on all three fronts, consulting with local tourism stakeholders to establish fair prices for local community guides and other service providers. Local culture and knowledge are at the heart of the new inclusive tourism products that have been developed, and enhancing local capacity in food hygiene and safety has been a top priority.
During the October visit by Vice President U Henry Van Thio and his delegation of ministers and senior officials from the central and state governments, residents of Hta Nee La Leh, supported by the ITC local team, presented its cultural attractions, the project’s activities and explained how post-project sustainability was being addressed through a training of trainers approach.
In the village the vice presidential delegation visted, the “Hta Nee La Leh tourism club” now conducts cultural walking tours around the village, bringing tourists to homes and teaching visitors local crafts such as wine making, weaving, and bracelet making.
The delegation expressed satisfaction with the increase in tourist arrivals to the village and the resulting income gains for local guides, food providers, craft producers and local artists.
The NTF III Myanmar Inclusive Tourism Project will run through July 2017.