Our First Social Enterprise in Bagan!
We set up Three Treasures Responsible Tourism & Trading in Bagan in April of 2016 as a local social enterprise. We create jobs and improve livelihoods by bringing marginalized members of the community into the tourism industry in a responsible way.
As a start-up social enterprise, we are working in collaboration with these stakeholder communities in New Bagan, West Pwa Saw, Na Jo Ai and Kyaukpadaung villages to provide training and develop new community-based tourism experiences for guests. Our local guides know all the best spots and have received training in sustainable tourism, English, photography, and other skills.
Defining Responsible Tourism in the Myanmar Context
Three Treasures Tourism in Bagan has adopted the Cape Town Declaration definition of Responsible Tourism which encourages the industry to take responsibility for making tourism more sustainable and demonstrate their responsibility.
The Cape Town Declaration recognises that Responsible Tourism takes a variety of forms, it is characterised by travel and tourism which:
- minimises negative economic, environmental and social impacts;
- generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities, improves working conditions and access to the industry;
- involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life changes;
- makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the maintenance of the world’s diversity;
- provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues;
- provide access for people with disabilities and the disadvantaged;
- is culturally sensitive, engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.
Inclusive Tourism in Bagan
The tourism market in Bagan and Mt. Popa is heavily focused on sightseeing tours. The main beneficiaries of tourism business are tour guides, drivers, e-bike renters and hotel/restaurant staff. Many local stakeholders without direct contact with tourists receive little benefit from tourism and lack the capacity to access the market. These stakeholders require training and a means of bringing their knowledge, skills, and products to the marketplace. Until recently, responsible tourism in Myanmar was almost unheard of.
Our business idea is attractive to tourists because it offers more than sightseeing. Based on the market research we conducted with local agents, hotels, and guests in the Bagan area, many visitors were tired of pagoda sightseeing tours. The feedback we received was that guests wanted to interact more with local people, learn about their ways of life and participate in hands-on activities. Many were concerned about the low standard of living in the villages. Organic farming and associated activities offer an opportunity for visitors to contribute in a positive way to community development through responsible tourism. We are confident there will be demand based on inquiries and feedback we have received from tour agents as well as the performance of similar projects we have visited in Thailand, Cambodia, Bali, South Africa, Switzerland and the USA.
Responsible Tourism in Myanmar
Our goal is to contribute to positive environmental impacts in our host communities by encouraging, training and modeling the use of organic agriculture, renewable energy and natural building in our infrastructure and operations.
To manage the risk of increased waste volumes, we discourage the use of plastics, one-way and single-serve packaging and emphasizing renewable, ecologically sound alternatives. Our plan is to implement closed-loop systems to use by-products of processes as resources within the system to drive other processes rather than generate unsustainable waste output.
New community-based tourism activities in 2017
- A meditation course is being developed together with the abbot of Na Jo Ai monastery northeast of New Bagan.
- A bamboo crafting class is being developed in collaboration with the Naing family in their West Pwa Saw village workshop. The class includes an introduction to the types of bamboo, its properties, uses, and importance in Myanmar as a raw material, followed by hands-on sessions where guests have the opportunity to practice the various bamboo crafting skills and create their own souvenirs.
• A course in “upcycled” crafting is being developed together with a collective of seamstresses and tailors in Na Jo Ai village. With no available waste collection services in the area, the environment is littered with grain and cement bags that can be repurposed as raw materials for useful products and souvenirs. The 3-hour activity will include an introduction to the challenges facing Myanmar as a developing country, a demonstration of the creative possibilities of upcycling as well as hands-on sessions where guests may craft their own souvenirs or purchase a local creation.
• Mountain bike tours linking the three training sites above together with the organic garden and training center as half- or full-day tours with optional local meals.
Most of the monuments in the Bagan protected area site do not receive any budget for cleaning and maintenance. When we first visited Than Pyin Swa pagoda outside West Pwa Saw village, the gardens were in an overgrown state. We learned that an elderly couple was charged with maintaining the property, receiving $24USD each per month for their work from another non-profit organization in South Korea.
We decided to “adopt” the pagoda and its caretakers in order to build a relationship with the villagers based on concrete activities. We have organized groups of local day laborers to work together with tourist volunteers in order to maximize opportunities for learning and intercultural exchange. Since the original cleanup, we have also supplied materials and labor to repair broken toilets and a water pump on the site.
We are pleased that we have been able to create one full-time and three part-time local staff positions in Bagan. Our staff was recruited and trained from the community that would otherwise not receive a share of tourism income. Realizing that everyone needs reliable, regular income, our jobs enabling four local community members to receive salary and benefits throughout the year, including rainy season.