Myanmar Elected: Ms. Khin Omar Win
In preparation of the 2015 Myanmar Elections, every week we speak to a citizen of Myanmar about the impact tourism has (had) on their daily life. Khin Omar Win, co-founder of Balloons Over Bagan thinks the most significant change Myanmar people have seen since her returen to the country in 1996 is the freedom from fear.
We need to pause and focus on planning and developing areas sustainably. We want tourism to benefit everyone and be sustainable.
So much has changed since I arrived back in Myanmar in 1996 and the country was still under military dictatorship. The most significant change is the freedom from fear. People are no longer scared to speak out. There is a feeling in the air of hope and living history as it is being made. There are few places on Earth these days that one visits and sees not just tourist sites and tribal culture, but also real change and history in the making.
The changes came with the release of our icon, Aung San Suu Kyi. With her release hope and a thawing of attitude from all quarters have come. All change has certain pitfalls and challenges. Overall it is good, as the country has opened up. There is far more freedom and opportunity than previously.
Businesses are doing well, leading to growth and creating more employment. There are more opportunities for training and exposure leading to young talented people setting up businesses or getting scholarships for overseas training.
A friend of mine, Yin Myo Suu is a classic example. Her father was a NLD (National League for Democracy) member who did time in prison. After he was released the family set up a hotel. Through clients they raised funds to set up community projects. In 2013, through clients of the hotel, she was nominated for — and won — the Goldman Sachs and Fortune 100 Global Leaders Award. Since then she has been able to set up a hotel school that gives training to local youths from different ethnic backgrounds in Myanmar.
One does not need connections or education to benefit from tourists. By visiting the country one can make a direct impact on the lives of people that you meet and places that you visit.
That said, we are at a crossroads. We have a country and culture that has been protected after decades of isolation.
Now we have the opportunity to develop, learning from the mistakes that others have made — or fall into the trap of developing too fast and losing our soul.
Myanmar, its people, culture and environment are sensitive and fragile. Present demand is greater than supply. The country is playing catch up when it comes to infrastructure and human resource. There is a huge thirst for fast growth without thought for environmental or social impact. We need to pause and focus on planning and developing areas sustainably. We need to design and implement tourism development plans that are transparent and include the local population in the design process. We want tourism to benefit everyone and be sustainable.
Ms. Khin Omar Win
Balloons Over Bagan / Eastern Safaris
The Myanmar General Election 2015 is scheduled for November 8th 2015 and will form an important landmark for the future of Myanmar and people working in the Burma tourism industry.