New project to help develop Kayah tourism
01 Sep 2014
A US$1.9 million project to boost tourism in Kayah, Myanmar’s smallest state, was launched in Yangon last week.
Funded by the Dutch government, the three-year initiative aims to encourage visitors to visit the region, which remains little-known to tourists.
A ceasefire has been in place since 2012, but long-running conflict between government forces and armed groups in the region means much of Kayah State has been effectively off-limits to holidaymakers. It is believed to be one of the most heavily land-mined areas in the country.
IRIN, a UN news organization, reported in August that landmine clearing has not begun in Kayah. Government officials were quoted the same month as saying tourism is restricted to major towns because of unexploded ordnance.
However the area has many scenic draws – rugged mountains, rivers and waterfalls – and is home to a diverse range of ethnic groups.
Those behind the tourism initiative, including the Netherlands Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI) and the Geneva-based International Trade Centre (ITC), say the region’s impressive natural and cultural heritage means it should be included on more tourist itineraries.
“Cultural and environmental tourism can be advantageous to the people of Kayah State,” said Dick de Man, deputy managing director of CBI.
Among the state’s ethnic groups are the Padaung, a culture which has drawn international attention for its tradition of women wearing stacked necklaces that give the impression of having an elongated neck.
“Long neck” tourism in neighbouring Thailand has proved controversial, with accusations that the “cultural villages” travellers visit to see the Padaung women are little better than human zoos.
De Man said that cultural tourism could play an important role in Kayah’s development.
“It can enhance understanding of the diversity of Myanmar and the importance of sustainable development to preserve the history, landscape and natural beauty that makes up the charm of this country and its people,” he said.
Anders Aeroe, ITC’s director for market development, suggested Kayah should join Myanmar’s more famous tourist sites on visitors’ travel itineraries. He said the project would work with local business to develop links with international markets.
Visitor numbers to Myanmar doubled to just over 2 million last year with that figure expected to top 3 million this year.
“Inbound tour operators will be encouraged to develop inclusive tourism tours and packages in Kayah State as part of a visitor’s trip to Myanmar, which usually covers the capital, Yangon, and beauty spots such as Inle Lake, Bagan, Mandalay and Mingun, as well as the famous Kyaiktiyo Pagoda,” Aeroe said.
“There is more to experience and to marvel at in Myanmar and Kayah State is a picturesque spot that should not be missed,” he added.
According to organizers, the project – which they say follows the recommendations of Myanmar’s Tourism Master Plan and the country’s National Export Strategy – will be delivered in conjunction with CBI’s national tourism development program.
The deputy director-general of the Department of Trade Promotion at the Ministry of Commerce, Aung Soe, welcomed the Kayah initiative’s contribution toward increasing tourism-related business in Myanmar.
“This is the first initiative to be implemented under the National Export Strategy,” he said. “We hope this project will contribute to tourism development in Kayah State in terms of product quality, business linkages and capacity-building of tourism sector associations.”
Also present at the launch on August 26 were senior officials from the Ministry of Commerce, the Myanmar Tourism Federation, the Union of Myanmar Travel Association and the Myanmar Marketing Federation, the Kayah State Hotelier Association and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) involved in tourism-related services.