Concerns may emerge when Bagan hotels, businesses are forced to move

On July 6, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Bagan as a World Heritage Site, marking Myanmar’s second entry to the list after World Heritage Status was granted to the ancient Pyu cities of Sri Ksetra, Halin and Beikthano in 2014.

The ancient city has more than 3500 surviving stupas, temples, monasteries, fortifications and other monuments, according to the Department of Archaeology and National Museums. It also has archaeological sites and the remains of an ancient water-management system.

Now, the government and the public have to cooperate to conserve the archaeological site, including removing all hotels to a dedicated hotel zone by 2028, failing which its newfound status will be revoked, said U Arkar Kyaw, Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs and Culture.

According to UNESCO rules, the distance between a pagoda and building must be 120 feet and the public cannot dig deeper than six feet underground. “In issuing those rules, UNESCO is looking at how to preserve Bagan and to ensure it does not deteriorate further from its current condition,” U Arkar Kyaw said.

Removing the hotels though, could prove to be easier said than done. There are over 300 hotels in Bagan but most of them are small family businesses with only 30 to 50 rooms, according to data from Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.

“The prices of the hotels are worth hundreds of millions of dollars and these are properties sitting on land owned by the local people. If they are removed, it will be difficult to compensate them for the land,” said U Lin Htut Oo, deputy director of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.

“The total land area of five hotels in the zone is around 300 acres, which is larger than the New Bagan Area. It isn’t even possible to compensate,” he added.

In total, there are about 4500 guest and hotel rooms in Bagan, including municipal guest houses, according to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism. The hotels are built on land owned by locals, land leased from the government as well as developed under permits by the Myanmar Investment Commission.

Meanwhile, the government and private sector is expecting a higher number of tourists to the area, now that Bagan has achieved its new status. Several airlines, such as Bangkok Airways, have already shown interest in operating direct routes to Bagan. The site has drawn an average total of 300,000 tourists per year since 2011. This year so far, a total of 200,000 tourists have visited the Bagan.

As such, the possible displacement of the hotels in the Bagan Zone now depends on negotiations between the government and UNESCO as well as with local hoteliers and investors.

So far, the government has not issued any directives or held discussions with hoteliers yet, businesses said.

Source: Myanmar Times

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