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Burma Unveils 'Master Plan' to Boost Tourism

  • VOA News

Tourists look at jade and gems in a shop at Aung San market in Rangoon, Burma, April 18, 2013.

Tourists look at jade and gems in a shop at Aung San market in Rangoon, Burma, April 18, 2013.

Burma's government has unveiled a new "master plan" for its growing tourism industry, in the hopes of attracting more foreign visitors to the rapidly changing country.

Foreigners have already begun flocking to the once-isolated Southeast Asian nation, which has made a series of unexpected political and economic changes since its military leaders handed power to a nominally civilian government in 2011.

Government officials hope the new tourism plan can carry on that momentum and help improve Burma's tattered economy, which has suffered from years of mismanagement and international sanctions.

The new plan, funded by the Norwegian government, outlines nearly $500 million worth of development projects. It includes expansions to airports in Mandalay and Naypyidaw, infrastructure improvements in and around key tourism sites, and the fast-tracking of hotels.

In a statement Wednesday, the Asian Development Bank says the new strategy can help tourism become a pillar of Burma's economy and has the potential to create meaningful job opportunities.

But the ADB, which helped the government release the plan, said this is contingent on Burma continuing to implement "economic, political and social reforms," something many activists warn is not guaranteed.

The ADB said current forecasts predict as many as 7.5 million tourists could visit Burma each year by 2020, a figure that is seven times the current amount. It said this could provide up to 1.4 million jobs.

But there are concerns the spike in tourism could take a toll on the environment. Some say Burma's natural landscape is already changing because of rapid, unregulated development, and that many of those profiting from tourism are exploiting the local culture.

Hotels and Tourism Minister Htay Aung said the government is aware of this, but insisted the new strategy will not threaten Burma's "unique cultural heritage" or "pristine environments."

The plan notes the need for new police divisions to help safeguard tourists and prevent child trafficking and sex tourism. It also suggests initiatives to help prepare Burma's many ethnic communities to handle an influx of visitors and maintain control over tourism in their communities.