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Pacific Asia Watch
Travel Leaders Symposium Assesses My Anmars Potential In Sustainable Tourism

The landmark hosting by Myanmar of the first-ever Travel Leaders' Symposium on Sustainable Tourism has been a historical opportunity for over 100 travel industry representatives from the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) and around the globe to gather, share their experiences and learn more about Myanmar.

Termed a great success by participants and observers, the Travel Leaders' Symposium was held at the Nann Myint Viewing Tower, Aureum Palace Hotel Bagan, under the joint sponsorship of Myanmar's Ministry of Hotels and Tourism and the Myanmar Tourism Board, in conjunction with the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office.

"We have been very pleased to welcome all of the local and international travel experts for this event, and we are delighted to have their knowledge and input as Myanmar returns to the world's spotlight as one of the newest and most exciting tourist destinations," said Dr. Khin Shwe, chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Board.

Myanmar is viewed by many as among the world's most promising emerging travel destinations, and should remain so for many years into the future. The meeting featured top speakers from the public and private sectors, as well as international organizations, who talked about the pros and cons of the expected growth and addressed various issues, from visa facilitation to potential destinations, from sustainable tourism destinations including National Parks to community-based tourism along with the better development of local handicrafts and cottage industries.

Myanmar is experiencing rapid growth in arrivals as the country is now opening up politically and economically. According to the latest figures from Myanmar Directorate for Hotels and Tourism, Myanmar received from January to October last year 302,236 air travelers, which is almost as much as for the whole year 2010, when the two international airports in Yangon and Mandalay welcomed 310,688 foreign travelers. An additional 350,000 travelers arrived overland to Myanmar from January to October 2011. According to data from the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Myanmar is projected to be among the world's fastest growing markets, with tourism increasing by 25% for the whole year 2011.

Myanmar has lagged behind much of Asia in developing its tourism industry, but the potential is enormous. The symposium noted Myanmar's wealth of untouched cultural and natural assets, and highlighted the need for the country to learn from mistakes and successes of other destinations, including the ones in the GMS.

One of Myanmar's greatest assets is its local population with its sense of genuine hospitality and friendliness. Some of the speakers urged Myanmar to develop an overall tourism master plan. Some urged the government to set sound polices and ensure that the private sector abides by the rules. "We want to expand tourism and bring more development to the country, and we realize the need for good planning and clear guidelines, "said H.E. U Htay Aung, deputy minister for the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.

For many years, the Asian Development Bank has been supporting sub-regional tourism cooperation in the GMS. In his presentation, Steven Schipani, ADB Social Sector specialist, stressed that although the outlook for GMS tourism remained favorable, there was no doubt that brisk growth would put tremendous pressure on the sub-region's tourism assets. "Innovative approaches are needed," he said, "along with better tourism management to make sure benefits flow to the poor." Among his suggestions: more community-based tourism and development of pro-poor supply chains; strategies for preventing and managing negative social impacts of tourism; mainstreaming environmental sustainability in the tourism sector; improving the protection of precious heritage assets; and policy and regulatory reform aimed at accelerating sustainable tourism investment.

PATA CEO Martin Craigs added: "The private industry is the one that will look at developing business. However they will not regulate themselves. It is up to the government to create the right balance for the benefit of all, and the job of business enterprises to voice their opinion to governments. PATA will then help facilitating the dialogue between the various players of our industry." During the opening ceremonies of the Symposium Mr. Craigs was joined on stage by H.E. U Htay Aung, deputy minister for the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, to announce the official launch of PATA's Myanmar Chapter.

The Travel Leaders' Symposium on Sustainable Tourism concluded that to help achieve good sustainable development of any destination, attention must be paid to the preservation of landscapes, cultural protection and empowerment of communities. Additionally, more attention should be paid to involve Myanmar's younger generations in the future of tourism.

"We not only want to grow tourism in Myanmar, we want to expand across all sectors, and showcase our culture and rich heritage, but not at a pace that will harm the environment or exceed our capacity to deliver a unique and satisfying tourism experience for all visitors," said tourism consultant Daw Kyi Kyi Aye.