After years of delay, the Myanmar Tourism Law was enacted by the Parliament in September 2018. By-laws were being drafted late in the year and are expected to take effect 90 days after enactment. The law replaces the 1993 Myanmar Hotel and Tourism Law, which has been the main legal and regulatory document guiding tourism over the past 25 years. The new law was initially drafted in 2015 but faced delays for a number of reasons, including the election and formation of the new government. Legislators received guidance from the UN World Tourism Organisation, and draft versions of the law were disseminated widely for consultation with industry and development partners. While there was no official English translation of the law available at the time of writing, initial analysis of its potential impact and remaining challenges is still possible.
The Myanmar Tourism Law provides for the creation of the Central Committee for the Development of the National Tourism Industry (CCDNTI), whose role it is to coordinate plans for tourism development between ministries, agencies and organisations, and guide the implementation of the Myanmar Tourism Master Plan 2013-20. The committee includes the vice-president, minister of hotels and tourism, and chief ministers of all states and regions, as well as tourism experts and private sector players. “It is apparent the government is listening to the private sector, with clear provisions that the development committees are established as partnerships between the public and private sector,” Daw May Myat Mon Win, chair of the Myanmar Tourism Marketing Association and vice-chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Federation, told OBG.
Under the new law, approval for licences is decentralised to state and regional governments, ensuring a more efficient system. The law creates regional tourism committees that will examine and manage licences, and process building and hotel applications. Previously, states and regions had to seek permission from the central government, which was a lengthy process. By devolving authority, the new law empowers regional governments to promote their own tourism industries. Some in the sector have expressed concern about whether each region has the capacity and experience to assess investment proposals. It is therefore key that they receive support in the initial stages to make decisions mutually beneficial to their regions and investors.
A key component of the new law is to ensure that tourism conforms to international practices. While the 1993 law issued four kinds of licences for hotels, tour operators, tour guides and tourist transport vehicles, the new bill adds a fifth open licence for “other tourism-related services”, which could allow for the recognition and regulation of alternative accommodation, such as homestays or bed and breakfasts. This addresses the demand for diverse options from tourists in an era when digital applications can match travellers directly with people renting out their homes or private accommodation. “The impending law addresses most of investors’ major concerns, including doubts regarding the status of homestays,” U Win Aung, chairman of tourism group Amata Holding, told OBG.
However, others have raised concerns that it does not go far enough to tackle some issues, especially regarding the rights of local communities and the importance of ecotourism. The new law makes progress by protecting both tourism operators and tourists, who are given accurate information about products and services, assurances on hygiene and quality, and the ability to report grievances. At the same time, it does not mention the rights of local communities and indigenous peoples, and further assurance is needed that valuable local heritage will be protected.
Ecotourism is mentioned as important for sustainable development, but no clear definition for what is considered ecotourism or sustainable tourism is included. It is also unclear how far tourism activities should align with environmental conservation, or how other environmental laws will be integrated with tourism regulations.
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