HKU TOURISM SEMINAR SERIES
"Asia's last ocean frontier": tourist imaginaries and trajectories of development in the Myeik Archipelago, Myanmar (Burma)
Meeting ID: 942 3472 8552 Password: 598824
Venue: Room 7.45, 7F, Run Run Shaw Tower
Sean P Smith
School of English, HKU
Prior to the pandemic and the February 2021 coup in Myanmar (Burma), the Myeik (Mergui) Archipelago was among Asia’s most mythologized tourism destinations. With largely undeveloped tropical islands, a nomadic indigenous group, and a near-absence of tourists, this chain of 800 islands off Myanmar’s southernmost coast was seen as “untouched,” incarnating one of the most powerful and durable imaginaries in global tourism. Yet the archipelago is no paradise: decades of poorly regulated fishing, the persecution and forced settlement of the indigenous Moken, and a surge of development more clearly define the region as a frontier into which tourism is rapidly expanding. The contrast between these realities and the imaginary of an “untouched” Myeik Archipelago implicates tourist imaginaries in the territorialization and development of tourism frontiers. By drawing on historical representations, participant observation of a tour in the archipelago, netnographic data, and interviews with tourists, “untouched” imaginaries are shown to mobilize the ongoing commodification of land and people and to obscure extant or resulting inequalities. As debates about sustainable tourism gain momentum in the wake of COVID-19, this talk makes a case for centralizing tourist imaginaries in charting alternative developmental pathways.