Report warns industry to prepare for the unsavoury side of tourism

    With tourism on the rise in Myanmar, the sector must better prepare for an influx of orphanage and child-sex tourism – problems that are already prevalent in the more travel-worn neighbouring countries, a report by three NGOs has warned.

    By Kyaw Phone Kyaw   |   Monday, 27 July 2015

    The tourism impact assessment was conducted by the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, the Danish Institute for Human Rights and the Institute for Human Rights and Business.

    “Children are particularly vulnerable to impacts from tourism. Lessons from neighbouring countries, particularly Cambodia and Thailand, highlight the importance of awareness-raising for both tour operators and tourists of the potential for negative impacts on children,” said the report, which was published on the Ministry of Tourism website on July 19.

    “The infrastructure and society are poorly prepared to receive a large number of foreign tourists, as well as an expansion of domestic pilgrimage and tourism.”

    Myanmar has large ambitions for its growing tourism sector and hopes to attract 4.5 million to 5 million visitors this year, up nearly 2 million from 2014.

    Although the figures are widely disputed – they include all types of arrivals, rather than just tourists – they do reflect a strong increase in visitors.

    But this growth hasn’t been without its drawbacks, industry figures say.

    “Child-sex tourism is already an issue in Myanmar, but not a broad one yet. We have to control it before it becomes a broader problem,” said U Naung Naung Han, an executive member of the Myanmar Tourism Federation.

    “I knew a case where some golf tournament tourists … demanded younger women partners at a KTV and the KTV owner looked for 14- to 16-year-old girls. Child sex is illegal according to the laws of our country but cases are occurring, mostly at KTVs. There is no law enforcement for it … and a lack of public awareness,” he said.

    Though U Naung Naung Han said he was unaware of orphanage tourism occurring in Myanmar, child-protection experts have found it on the rise, and The Myanmar Times has encountered several incidents of it.

    According to UNICEF, the orphanage tourism phenomenon is a growing business fuelled by well-intentioned donations that only perpetuate the problem by incentivising the creation of more orphanages.

    A UNICEF study of registered orphanages in Myanmar in 2011 found that 73 percent of children in residential care facilities still had one or both parents alive.

    In addition to the negative effects on children, the tourism industry’s growth has had an impact on the environment, especially in heavily visited areas, according to the assessment report.

    “Some of Myanmar’s flagship sites such as Bagan, Inle and Kyaikhtiyo are already under environmental and social pressure from the effects of tourism. This is impacting livelihoods and the long-term viability of these places as tourism destinations,” it said.

    The report suggests the government draw up destination management plans to control and limit tourism’s destructive impacts.

    “A mass-market strategy that generates negative impacts on Myanmar’s environment and culture could kill the goose that lays the golden egg soon after ‘the journey begins’,” the report said, referring to Myanmar’s current tourism slogan, “Let the journey begin.”

    U Naung Naung Han said he worries there isn’t enough time for such strategies to be created and implemented before the tourism sector swells to unmanageable heights.

    According to Myanmar’s tourism master plan, the sector is projected to reach 20.4 foreign visitors between 2013 and 2020, while domestic travel is anticipated to soar up to 29.2 million people.