It is Imaginative Traveller’s aim to provide journeys that have minimal negative and maximum positive impact on the places we visit. However whilst it is our aim to show destinations and cultures in a positive light, we do not believe in papering over the cracks or shielding visitors from the realities of life, nor do we condone or endorse certain situations or regimes that may be in place. When Aung San Suu Kyi announced in January 2011 “We are going to encourage individual tourism… ethical tourism if you like” it was something we had waited a long time to hear. It supports the position that we have taken all along – that mass scale tourism was inappropriate, but small scale responsible tourism was beneficial to the Burmese people.
We are aware that ever since the National League for Democracy (NLD) announced that the full tourism boycott be lifted, Burma would soon become a top emerging destination (as voted for in the 2011 Wanderlust Travel Awards) and that tourism would need to be carefully managed. Tourism is a sector that allows the local population access to income and contact with people from other countries. Imaginative Traveller believes that responsible tourism to Burma/Myanmar will lead to increased contact with other cultures that will help to lead the country out of its present isolation. We remain averse to large-scale package tourism to Burma/Myanmar.
We comply in full with the sanctions on Burma/Myanmar imposed by the European Union and follow strict guidelines on travel to the region. These guidelines include the requirement to use privately owned and operated agents and hotels, and to communicate with customers on the situation in Burma/Myanmar. We therefore consider that our activities are of a size and nature that do not support the continued human-rights abuses of the country’s government.
Our tours to Burma/Myanmar focus on respecting and benefiting the local people, the culture, history and environment of Burma/Myanmar. We frequent the country’s many religious sites in order to gain an understanding of the paramount importance of Buddhism in Burmese life. We only employ local leaders born and bred in Burma/Myanmar, ensuring that income and training goes to the locals, rather than ‘western’ leaders who come out and lead for a couple of seasons. Using local Burmese guides helps you to get ‘under the skin’ of the country and see it through the eyes of a local. They help ensure that you enjoy interaction with different cultural groups in a spirit of respect, understanding and mutual benefit. They are great fun and will be a great part of your holiday because of their intimate knowledge of the sights, culture and customs, history and language of their homeland. They will help you understand the traditions of these proud people, ensuring you don’t commit any cultural ‘faux pas’. Seeing the country through the eyes of those who call it home is one of the main joys of travelling. Once you have travelled with a local leader you will understand that there is no better way!
All of our tour leaders are trained in accordance with responsible travel policies and will brief our clients about this issue at the start of the tour. This information covers aspects such as appropriate dress and behaviour, tipping customs as well as more general matters such as our littering and no smoking tour policies. To support our tour programme in Burma/Myanmar we are training our tour leaders on a variety of issues, from environmental awareness to First Aid. This not only assists in the conduct of a tour but also provides leaders with important life skills. We also work hard to ensure our impact on the environment is minimised – training staff and business partners, providing guidelines for local businesses and ‘leaving no trace’ in general.
In addition, throughout Burma/Myanmar, we use public transport and prefer to give our patronage to small owner-managed hotels rather than those from international chains, as we feel these places offer quality and character and also directly benefit local people. This ensures the financial return to the local economy, opens up training and employment opportunities – and allows for informal and meaningful interaction between our travellers and local people. Through offering employment and steady revenue, tourism can ultimately make a real positive difference to the community.
Our groups will be small – never greater than 16. Less is more: less impact on the natural environment, more chance to enjoy your surroundings. Less crowding out of places, more time spent meaningfully interacting with locals and communities.
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