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16 Ways to Fix Burma

On the eve of the country's historic elections, 16 experts give us their prescriptions for the future.

Andrea Valentin: Come visit, sustainably.

Imagine the good if Burma could learn from its neighbors' tourism development mistakes, leapfrog these errors, and develop sustainable tourism. Imagine the government adapts multi-stakeholder destination-planning procedures, develops sustainable tourism policies, writes a legislative framework from which sustainable tourism can occur, and collaborates with poor communities to ensure they benefit from tourism.

Given the massive impact that tourism has on the world's poor, the development of Burma's tourist industry could have a massive impact on the country's future - if it's done right. Burma's Ministry of Hotels and Tourism has repeatedly stated its commitment to uphold the principles of responsible tourism. They know sustainable tourism will not happen by itself, and are acutely aware that many people are watching their actions closely.

The scope for changing tourism policy to enhance livelihood benefits for the poor is immense. Pro-poor tourism, which generates net benefits for the poor, can stimulate Burma's economic development, helping marginal areas that have few other exports and diversification options.

The success of pro-poor tourism depends on whether the government will explicitly focus on expanding the benefits for the poor in the reformed tourism law, or whether they will just assume the poor will benefit from tourism through the trickle-down effect.

Interventions could be taken at three levels. At the destination level, partnerships can be developed between operators, residents, NGOs, and local authorities. At the national policy level, policy reforms are needed on a wide range of tourism and non-tourism issues, and at the international level, responsible consumer and business behavior should be encouraged.

The government and the private sector can take several steps to strengthen the pro-poor benefits of tourism. Companies can develop stronger economic linkages with the poor by adapting their supply chain. The government can boost opportunities for participation by the poor. They could offer stipends to develop tourism and hospitality skills, provide small business support schemes, and build basic infrastructure for tourist services in poor areas. By reforming Burma's licensing and concession policies, the government could create incentives for companies to invest and operate in pro-poor ways.

As a form of poverty intervention, pro-poor tourism does not compare with development methods such as investments in health, education, and agriculture. But as a strategy to promote broad-based growth, pro-poor tourism can do a lot of good. Donors have recognized that compared with other sectors, tourism has higher potential for linkage, is labor intensive, and provides many jobs for women and youth.

The long-term success for tourism depends on whether the government can develop civil society. Through pro-poor tourism, the government can show that the people of Burma are at the center of the development agenda, not the economic elite.

This article was originally published on "Foreign Policy Magazine", 30 March 2012.