RANGOON — Once again, the government has claimed Burma is on track to meet its tourist arrival figures for the year. Once again, the government stands accused of inflating the figures.
Hotels and Tourism
Htay Aung told a Saturday meeting with tourism industry leaders that despite concerns over political change in Burma, the number of tourists who have come to the country in 2015 has surpassed 4.2 million. Citing the recent election win by the opposition National League for Democracy, Htay Aung said the industry was well placed for future growth.
“The [tourism] landscape is very positive because the change caused by the election has done a lot to favor the tourism industry,” he said. “There are many people inquiring about trips here. So I predict that, at the least, we will receive 4.7 million foreign travelers this year.”
Earlier this year, Htay Aung said that the ministry expected between 4.5 and 5 million foreign tourists to be admitted into Burma for 2015.
Foreign arrivals have increased dramatically over the past few years, rising from 800,000 people in 2011 to just over three million in 2014.
Industry observers remain skeptical of the ministry’s figures, which tally arrivals of all foreign passport holders at land and air entry points.
Most travelers to Burma come through two major Thai border checkpoints—Tachileik in Shan State and Myawaddy in Karen State. In 2014, out of 3 million foreign visitors, over 1.9 million crossed into Burma at these two crossings into towns with few tourist amenities and poor transport links to urban centers further afield, suggesting that the vast majority of arrivals were conducting business or expatriates taking visa runs in order to satisfy the requirements of Thai immigration authorities.
Sabei Aung, managing director of Nature Dream Travel and Tour, told The Irrawaddy that it was difficult to claim that many of those who crossed into the country from Thailand were genuine tourists.
“Along border areas there are weak tourism services—for example, there are no good airports, hotels, guides, or other facilities—so how can we be sure that everyone is a tourist?” she asked.
“I want to ask the ministry why it includes all of these numbers.”
She added that the ministry should work to provide a more accurate snapshot of the tourism industry before the new government takes office at the end of March, in order to identify challenges facing the sector.
“If there really were 5 million tourists coming here, this would have definitely caused a problem due to a lack of infrastructure, human resources and other amenities, like communications and banking,” she said.
According to the ministry, Thai travelers account for over 70 percent of foreign travelers to Burma, followed by citizens from the European Union, the United States, and Canada.
The ministry claimed that Burma received US$1.78 billion in tourism revenue last year, an increase from the approximately $500 million it received in 2012.