Making Sense of Responsible Tourism

The examples of the positive and negative impacts on tourism , as shown in the previous pages, differed in two main regards. The positive impacts were generally based around actions by individual, responsible tourists. The negative impacts were generally based upon lack of forward planning in areas frequented predominantly by mass-tourists, or at least by tourists in large numbers. However, those statements are generalizations as both forms of tourism can have their unique and situational impacts, both positive and negative, upon the communities, culture and environment.

In a perfect world, responsible tourism is just one facet of an overarching framework of sustainable tourism, wherein ‘a suitable balance is established between environmental, economic, socio-cultural aspects of tourism development’[1]. In such a framework, responsible tourism is the role tourists play, taking accountability and responsibility for their own actions and attempting to make responsible decisions regarding all facets of tourism.

Unfortunately in Burma, due to the political state of the country and the oppressive nature of the regime, sustainable tourism as a framework is not a viable option. According to the Responsible Tourism Handbook[2], sustainable tourism should:

Make optimal use of the environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.
Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to intercultural understanding and tolerance.
Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation
Informed participation of all relevant stakeholders, as well as strong political leadership to ensure wide participation and consensus building. This includes constant monitoring of impacts, introducing the necessary preventative and/or corrective measures whenever necessary
Maintain a high level of tourism satisfaction and ensure a meaningful experience to the tourists, raising their awareness about sustainability issues and promoting sustainable tourism practices among them.

When we look at this in terms of Burma, who ironically reported to the United Nations their so-called Sustainable Tourism policy in 1999, these criteria aren’t able to be met on a number of levels. Putting aside the environmental and cultural criteria, in the current climate there is a concrete lack of strong political leadership and consensus building among stakeholders. Without this key element, attempts of holistic community-based sustainable tourism (CBST) will be in vain. In many developing countries, CBST is often sponsored by NGOs, who work with local government agencies and communities to organise and mobilise into people’s organisations, building capacity and developing the skills and framework necessary for a holistic tourism approach. However, given the political climate in Burma such NGO activities are impractical, and even if a CBST could be implemented in areas that have been mobilized and organized, due to the protest NGOs would have difficulty finding funding for such activities and would risk being placed on ‘Black Lists’.

All of these factors need to be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to visit Burma. The problem with responsible tourism falling outside of an overarching sustainable tourism program is that the onus really does then fall to individuals. VFB acknowledge that more than half of the visitors to Burma likely fall into the package-tour market or cross-border market, and thus are limited in the personal choices and individual responsibility they are able to take. Of the remaining tourists, we also acknowledge that not all of these tourists will be responsible. However, we do acknowledge that many tourists do travel to Burma taking individual responsible actions.

In the current climate, without an overarching sustainable policy, if responsible tourists don’t go to Burma, then tourism on the whole would encompass the negative impacts – becoming the self-fulfilling prophecy of pro-protest supporters. What we hope to achieve out of this section is for you, as a potential tourist, to be conscious of how your travel will fit into the bigger picture. We want to show you that the onus is on you to make an effort to be responsible in all your actions – as unlike many other countries the government cannot be relied upon to develop the necessary frameworks to ensure sustainability for the communities, culture and the environment.

Therefore, we cannot stress enough how important it is that you commit to being a responsible tourist.

[1] Definition as coined by World Tourism Organisation.

[2] Madar, Ron (2006) ‘Defining Sustainable Tourism’, Responsible Travel Handbook,

sourced on 7th January from www.transitionsabroad.com

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