Thursday, September 21, 2017

Entrance fees bypass Bagan temples

Where does the money from Bagan entrance fees go? Well, now we know – and just 2 percent is being put toward preserving the ancient city’s monuments.

A tourist photographs murals next to a sitting Buddha statue at Sulamani Temple in Bagan city in November 2015. The temple was built in 1181 and is one of the most frequently visited in Bagan, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Photo: EPAA tourist photographs murals next to a sitting Buddha statue at Sulamani Temple in Bagan city in November 2015. The temple was built in 1181 and is one of the most frequently visited in Bagan, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Photo: EPA

This has prompted observers to call for more of the income from entrance fees, which totalled more than US$4 million last year, to go toward conservation.

Following a recent tender, the Myanmar Tourism Federation began collecting the K25,000 entrance fee from tourists at Bagan on March 1. The federation will collect the fees for the next year after beating out two other companies in the tender, which was called by the Ministry of Culture.

The agreement between the Ministry of Culture and the Myanmar Tourism Federation, signed on February 26, will see 90pc of income will go into the state budget, with the MTF taking an 8pc cut. The remaining 2pc goes to conservation and maintenance.

But U Than Htay, vice chair of the Bagan Guide Association, told The Myanmar Times yesterday this was nowhere near enough given that Bagan is home to thousands of pagodas that are in need of both protection and maintenance.

“The pagodas are being slightly destroyed day by day because the budget and number of skilful staff is not enough in Bagan,” he said. “We want to know how much of the 90pc that goes to government is returned to care for Bagan pagodas. We would like to see at least 10pc used.”

He said that tourists paying the fee expect the money to be used on maintaining the site.

He also suggested some of the money should be used to improve services for tourists, such as the creation of bike tracks and parks.

One senior Ministry of Culture official said that until now none of the entrance fee went directly to conservation.

“It all went into the national budget. Then we got our budget from the government separately,” said U Zaw Zaw Tun, a director in the Ministry of Culture. “If the budget allocated wasn’t enough, then we could ask for additional money.”

Another Ministry of Culture director, U Aung Aung Kyaw from the Archaeology and National Museum Department, said that he was happy to at least get something from the zone fees. He said the money would be used to recruit more staff. “In the past, none of the funding at all from entrance fees went directly to helping conserve the pagodas. This income will be very useful for Bagan,” he said.

In the last complete financial year, more than 240,000 spent US$4.1 million in entry fees. So far this year, as of February there have been 220,000 visitors, U Aung Aung Kyaw said.

Since last January, visitors have been paying the entry fee in Myanmar kyat, amounting to K25,000 instead of $20.

U Yan Win, chair of MTF, said that they won’t raise entrance fees, but they plan to computerise the system.