What’s the difference between a hotel and a bed and breakfast? Why does Inle Lake have an ugly scar on its eastern shore? Why are some guesthouses banned from having signboards in English and others are required to have them?
As these questions – and many others like them – indicate, government policy on visitor accommodation is difficult to follow. It has frequently contradicted other policies, such as those for community-based tourism and environmental protection.
In the tourism sector, the biggest potential for impacts, either negative or positive, comes from how accommodation is sited, licensed, constructed and operated. The Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business has therefore been tracking it closely as part of its Sector-Wide Impact Assessment, which was published in February 2015.
In 2012, on the basis of ambitious and inflated projections for tourist arrivals, and a temporary spike in Yangon hotel prices driven by an influx of business visitors, the U Thein Sein government started actively encouraging hotel construction.
Part of this was through the promotion of “hotel zones”. The two best-known are in Inle Lake and Mandalay.
Although such zones were never clearly defined, they should not be confused with the recommendation in the 2013 Tourism Master Plan for “zonal planning to be developed and applied at all destinations experiencing high visitor growth”.