By Jaime Drew
Chinese business is investing a lot in Myanmar to develop tourism and farm production. Condos and resorts are being built by the ocean and massive roadworks are underway to service them. Though tourism can be a boost to a small economy, most spending from Chinese tourists benefits Chinese tour and hotel operators, with local businesses receiving only a small boost.
As tourism is a double-edged sword that can change a place for worse or the better, growth should be carefully moderated. Regional towns, like Pathein, would not benefit from becoming heavily touristed resort cities, lined with clubs and shopping malls.
Eco-tourism is a path towards economic security that fits capitalist frameworks while engaging the best outcomes for people and their environment. Best-practice eco-tourism:
- Creates no pollution
- Protects the region’s local natural wonders.
- Promotes and teaches the importance of preserving nature.
- Creates wholesome employment and training opportunities for local residents.
Australia’s National Parks are a great model of eco-tourism. The Parks Eco Pass ensures all commercial operators are licenced under a program that ‘maintains the quality of activities provided in parks and prevents harm to natural areas’. There are many examples of ecologically sustainable businesses around the world, including diving resorts that promote ocean biodiversity, yoga retreats that encourage mental health, and hiking tours that utilise the expertise of local guides (Editor’s note: Check out Balibo Trails in Timor Leste!).
Travelling is a time for us to enjoy ourselves and this experience is never lessened by strengthening our commitment to sustainability, particularly in front of fellow travellers. We can reduce our impact by refusing plastic cups, carrying metal straws or simply being aware of our plastic consumption. In most countries you travel, there will be local organisations leading the way in zero-waste and eco-friendly consumerism. Check them out before you travel and be sure to voice your support.
When we encounter difference in consumer habits between cultures, it is important to recognise the underlying social and economic causes of this difference before commenting. For example, in Australia we can reuse water bottle by filling them up at home from the tap. This is not a viable option for many regions of the world where tap water is not safe to drink and residents rely on bottled water as a source of clean water.
As I continue my project in Pathein, I am excited to see how the increased investment in the region can support ecologically sustainable tourism for the benefit of local communities.
To support the permaculture and sustainable building design project of the Diocese of Pathein, Myanmar, donate today and help us fund 18 further months of professional development training for local residents.