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Commercialization of Taunggyi balloon festival opposed

(Photo: Ko Moe / DVB)

Residents of Taunggyi are calling for a halt to plans to allow businesses to build stages for next week’s hot-air balloon contests, arguing that commercialization of the event will come at the expense of local people.

The contests are the highlight of the annual Tazaungdaing festival marking the end of the Buddhist Lent period. The event, which will be held this year from 6-14 November, is expected to attracts thousands of visitors to the Shan State capital.

However, some local groups are not happy about plans this year to sell tickets to tourists to view the contests from stages built on public land.

On Tuesday, more than 50 people representing a number of civil society organisations and political parties staged a protest on the field where the contests are held to oppose commercialization of the event.

“The first reason we are protesting is that they are going to build the stages in a public area where people used to be able to watch for free. They will fence this area in and charge people to enter, leaving almost no space for members of the public,” said Tin Maung Toe, one of the protest leaders.

“Another reason is that people use their own money to take part in the contest. They spend 4-5 million kyat [US$3,100-3,900],  and these these business people will make a profit off of the efforts of these volunteer competitors,” he added.

“A third reason is that the stages will be in the path of the hot-air balloons. If a balloon drops, it will be very dangerous.”

The Cherry Queen Hotel Group, one of the businesses planning to build a stage for the event, has not made any official response to the protest, although protesters said they heard that the company was talking to the state government about public opposition to the move.

Soe Lin, an administrative officer for the hotel group, said the stages were being built for the convenience of people who want to watch the contests. He told DVB he had no information about the protest.

Around 400 hot air balloons are expected to be launched during this year’s festival, according to organisers.