Collecting Case Data on Tourism in Burma
A few weeks ago we launched the website my.ecoburma.com. Its purpose is to enable individuals – both travellers and locals – as well as civil society groups to submit reports on concrete issues that can be traced back to the presence of inbound tourism. We consider this an important step in empowering locals to get involved and to leverage the positive potential of tourism, while at the same time minimizing negative side effects and avoiding common pitfalls.
Avoiding Top-Down Approaches
Burma is struggling with the recent boom in tourism and many observers are afraid that it might follow the bad examples of other developing countries. It seems that little is being done, however, to raise awareness among the Burmese population and involve them, even though activities to foster responsible tourism have started on governmental level and are often focussed on maximum visibility in media. In the emerging plans, however, the role assigned to civil society does not actually reflect its critical importance in a bottom-up democracy, and any attempt to sideline the people would most likely fail to achieve the proclaimed goals of responsible tourism since no control mechanism would exist to represent the rights of the powerless.
The step from demanding responsible tourism to enforcing it must necessarily involve local civil society, and it requires citizens that are aware, right here where tourism is taking place. Mere declarations of commitment from business and authorities are not sufficient, since the rights of ordinary people only too often collide with powerful profit-making goals, turning idealist concepts like “responsible tourism”, “ethical tourism”, “sustainable tourism”, or “fair travel” into products that serve no other purpose than tapping new customer groups.
It would certainly be naïve to expect that the Myanmar government together with national and international tourist corporations would start to fight for labour rights and for a visitor quota on endangered heritage sites, or that they would reduce energy and clean water wastage in a hotel in order to increase the supply for surrounding households. This important task can only be done by free media and by independent associations formed and controlled by qualified individuals who genuinely care for the disenfranchised.
While Internet, social media and crowdsourcing (thanks to Ushahidi) certainly don’t provide any magic bullet to kick-start democracy and human rights, they can at least serve as a tool that is accessible even to inadequately funded civil society actors and that – diligently applied – can indeed make a difference.