Tourism to the formerly restricted Chin State is showing faint signs of life, but development concerns and a lack of bureaucratic clarity are hampering the industry, hoteliers in the area say.
“There have been more visits from tourists to Chin State this year than the previous years and most of them are researchers,” said Saline Om Khou Ge, manager of the Oasis Resort in Mindat Township.
Tourists to southern Chin State’s Mindat and Kanpetlet Township this year were estimated at between 700 and 800 visitors. Tourism nationwide is expected to draw nearly 1.2 million foreigners this year.
“There have been more tourists this year, most of them are Europeans. It is over one-and-a-half times the number of tourists in previous years,” U Shine Ge’ Ngaine, the founder of Nat Ma Taung National Park, told The Irrawaddy.
Saline Om Khou Ge said formal submissions seeking government permission to travel in Chin State had tapered off since tourist visits were officially permitted there beginning this year. But due to the absence of precisely issued directives, local officials and visitors were at times inconvenienced by low-ranking law enforcement officers who continued to demand that foreign visitors obtain and carry with them government approval for their presence in Chin State.
“The policy has now changed, but there is no follow-up directive,” Saline Om Khou Ge explained. “We want to know exactly which department we have to report to when a foreign visitor comes and stays here. They say they don’t need any permission. They say it is officially allowed. But the low-rankers [police officers] are still asking us for the permissions.
“Formerly, when foreign visitors visited Mindat and Kanpetlet townships in southern Chin State, copies of the permission [document] needed to be delivered to the Special Investigation Department, the Immigration Department, the police Special Branch, the Military Intelligence Department, the township administrator’s office and the district administrator’s office.”
One local lawmaker acknowledged the need to clear up any policy uncertainty on the ground.
“Although tourists are allowed to freely travel now, the fact that the lower staff are still asking for the order harms the development of the tourism industry in Chin State. A field study will be done starting from the lower level and submitted to the Hluttaw [Parliament] if necessary,” said Har Shen Bwe, Mindat’s parliamentary representative.
He added that regional development hinged largely on tourism revenues because Chin State is one of the least developed states in Burma.
Saline Om Khou Ge pointed out that one of the major hindrances to tourism’s growth was inadequate local and national laws and regulations for the industry.
He said excessive taxes levied on hotel businesses, which play an essential role in Chin State tourism’s development, and inadequate supplies of water and electricity were additional difficulties facing the industry.
On a trip to Chin State in March, Htay Aung, the minister for hotels and tourism, said a cooperative effort was needed between government and the private sector, given the tourism industry’s vital role in the state’s economic development.
He also said additional training would be provided in Chin State to increase locals’ understanding of the hotel business and the tourism industry more broadly.
Despite a far more welcoming profile in 2013, foreign visitors to Chin State are not yet wholly unrestricted. A high-ranking official of the Matupi Township administrator’s office said security concerns in Matupi required that travel to the township remain off limits to tourists, with access limited to some UN staff and other international aid workers only.