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Mr. Union Minister
Mr. Vice President
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a particular pleasure for me to attend this launch of the Myanmar Tourism Master Plan Technical Assistance project, which is financed by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and will be implemented by the Asian Development Bank.
This is my third visit to Myanmar in 18 months. During my first visit in May 2011, I announced that Norway had withdrawn its advice to Norwegian tourists to refrain from visiting Myanmar.
This was one of the first international relaxations on engagement with Myanmar. Many have followed since. It was done in support of the emerging reform process and in the belief that greater contact with the rest of the world would have a positive effect on a country that had been closed for a long time.
I followed this up during my second visit in October 2011, when I met with U Htay Aung, who was then Deputy Minister of Tourism (and I was Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs). I agreed with him that Norway would consider ways of supporting Myanmar in developing a sustainable tourist sector.
And here we are today, at the launch of the Myanmar Tourism Master Plan Technical Assistance project.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Myanmar’s tourism sector is currently experiencing rapid growth as a result of recent political and economic reforms.
In the first half of 2012, growth in international tourist arrivals increased by over 30% compared to the same period last year. It firmly establishes Myanmar as one of the world’s fastest growing tourist destinations.
Rapid tourism growth presents the country with many opportunities and challenges. Tourism is a labor intensive industry that can quickly create jobs across all levels of society, help to strengthen economic ties across borders, promote international friendship, and foster greater appreciation of Myanmar’s rich cultural and natural heritage.
At the same time, great damage to the environment and negative social impacts may occur if tourism development proceeds in an unplanned and uncoordinated manner.
To help Myanmar address these formidable challenges, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to be cooperating with the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism and the Asian Development Bank to help prepare a Tourism Master Plan that sets out a framework for environmentally and socially sustainable development of the sector.
Under the leadership of the Union Minister, The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism could be congratulated for its significant efforts to cooperate with other public agencies, the private sector, and development partners to lay the foundations for sound national tourism planning and management.
Some of the early dividends of this cooperation include the highly successful Travel Leader’s Symposium for Sustainable Tourism held in Bagan last November, and endorsement of Myanmar’s first Responsible Tourism Policy this year.
One of the key action points of the Responsible Tourism Policy is conservation and enhancement of the environment. I am pleased to say that Norway is also supporting the work to rehabilitate and conserve Inle Lake, one of Myanmar’s spectacular tourist attractions.
This project, which is implemented by the UNDP, The Institute of International Development (IID), and UN HABITAT, can serve as a model for tourism planning at important ecological sites.
Tourism is a multi-sector economic activity. It requires significant investments in public infrastructure and regulatory reform to sustain growth and spread the economic benefits of tourism more widely.
It gives me great pleasure to be able to announce today that Norway also intends to cooperate with the ADB on updating Myanmar’s Electricity Law. This will help to accelerate expansion of the power supply network – thus address a key issue constraining expansion of the tourism and hospitality industry in urban and rural areas.
Ladies and gentlemen,
A future-oriented tourism policy must properly address issues related to sustainability. In Norway, we are particularly concerned about environmental degradation and climate change. These are two of the most serious challenges of our time.
Transport is one of the main environmental challenges for many aspects of tourism. Using less energy-intensive forms of transport with fewer emissions will be a major challenge in the longer term.
Myanmar’s cultural heritage belongs not only to the country’s present day inhabitants and tourists from other countries, but to future generations as well. The duty of our generation is to take good care of this heritage. This is a joint responsibility for the tourist industry, local authorities and other stakeholders. Together they must adhere to principles of good, sustainable use of resources and best eco-practice.
Tourism can be a blessing. It can strengthen the local economy. It can enable local communities to take even better care of places of particular value.
But there are dangers. Many popular destinations cannot cope with unlimited numbers of tourists. Beautiful places can be ruined by large scale tourism. Too many tourists may spoil the local culture, disturb the wildlife, cause degradation of natural areas and erode cultural monuments.
A Tourism Master Plan founded on the principle of sustainability will hopefully lay the foundation for a healthy development of a very important sector in Myanmar’s economy. I wish you all the best in your deliberations today and with your important work ahead. Thank you.