By Khine Kyaw
More hotel zones are slated for designation around Myanmar, adding to those that already exist in Bagan and Nay Pyi Taw. This is a feature of Myanmar's rapid hotel development to accommodate a growing number of tourists in the country.
Yet, such development may lead to more land conflicts, said an expert.
“At the moment, there is too much focus on hard infrastructure and, in particular, on hotel construction. Myanmar needs to rein in the rush to create so-called hotel zones, where land is compulsorily acquired for multiple hotels, often on environmentally sensitive sites. Our field research repeatedly showed that many of the negative impacts we found were associated with hotel zones,” said Vicky Bowman, director of the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business (MCRB).
Bowman underscored the importance of participatory destination management and a proper zone planning approach. She blamed the lack of a legal framework for the rise in land issues across the country.
“Land is possibly the most complex challenge any business investing in Myanmar with a land footprint will face. The reform of the land policy and laws in Myanmar is incomplete. It is characterised by a patchwork of old and new laws and regulations that leads to overlap, contradiction and confusion that can deprive people of their land,” she said.
MCRB’s recent assessment on the tourism sector reinforces the need to embark urgently on a review of the status of hotel zone development. This process should be initiated by a multi-stakeholder debate to contribute to the drawing up of a zonal planning framework. According to the report, decisions to further develop hotel zones should be suspended until the completion of the review.
“I think it is very good to implement new destinations, but you should not ever implement a hotel zone. You should always implement a new destination through talking to communities, governments and other stakeholders, and tour operators because the tour operators understand what tourists want and what they can sell,” said Bowman.
Thi Thi Thein, MCRB’s sector-wide impact assessment manager, also insisted that hotel zones lead to land grabs and disputes with local communities.
“There is still a risk of tourism-connected land grabs. The main driver of this current risk is government plans for hotel zones -- large areas of land that are cleared and subdivided into adjacent plots for hotel construction,” she said.
According to MCRB’s findings, there has been inadequate consultation and information on existing and future projects affecting villagers and the acquisition of their land. In most locations, communities were not consulted on issues related to locations of hotel zones, development of roads and other potential impacts. Instead, they learned about hotel zones in their areas only when the physical preparations of the projects commenced.
In its report titled “Myanmar Tourism Sector-wide Impact Assessment”, the organisation noted some examples of land confiscation.
In Mawlamyine, the government confiscated land from communities despite documentation proving locals' land ownership and rights to use land.
In the Inle Lake region, below-market value compensation was offered to communities for their land. The compensation was also based on three years’ loss of crops but not the loss of villagers’ livelihood.
In Chaungtha Beach, several land plots were confiscated for hotel development. However, most of them remain vacant. Only one local hotel paid compensation to villagers. Others were denied access to the land as well as their rights to compensation.
In Ngwesaung Beach, villagers received no compensation for their land, which was also confiscated for tourism development.