Myanmar’s Domestic Tourists Return but Foreigners Stay Away

By The Irrawaddy 16 March 2023

Myanmar’s tourism industry was battered by both the coup and the COVID-19 pandemic. But domestic travel has flickered back to life this year with holidaymakers flocking to popular travel destinations and many hotels fully booked for Thingyan, the week-long holiday in mid-April that marks Myanmar’s New Year.

Popular destinations include Bagan, Ava and Mingun in central Myanmar, as well as the beach resorts of Ngapali, Chaungtha and Ngwe Saung.

“Most tourists are domestic travelers visiting Bagan, Ngapali, Ngwe Saung and Chaungtha. Flights are fully booked for Thingyan. Hotels are also full,” one tour operator told The Irrawaddy.

The majority of hotel rooms are booked for Thingyan at Chaungtha and Ngwe Saung beaches in Ayeyarwady Region, which is relatively stable compared to other parts of the country. And holidaymakers are also booking hotels in Myanmar’s temple city Bagan, which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019.

A tour operator in Chaungtha Beach said: “Some 75 per cent of hotel rooms have been booked.”

Some Bagan hotels are also full for the Thingyan holidays. Hotel rates differ from place to place depending on the availability of electricity, said local sources.

Ava, one of Myanmar’s ancient capitals, and Mingun are also attracting vacationers, most of whom are families, according to local horse-cart drivers.

“Arrivals declined steeply after the coup. We have seen a surge since early this year. But they are domestic travelers, not foreigners,” an Ava resident told The Irrawaddy.

But it is a different story in formerly popular destinations where fighting between military regime troops and resistance forces is escalating, such as Sagaing and Magwe regions and Chin, Karen, Kayah and Shan states. Bomb blasts are also still occurring in heavily-guarded major cities like Yangon and Mandalay.

Foreign tourist arrivals collapsed at the onset of the pandemic. And since the 2021 coup, some countries including the United States have issued warnings advising against travel to Myanmar.

On March 6, Britain’s foreign ministry advised against all travel to Sagaing and Magwe regions and Mon, Kachin Chin, Kayah, Karen and northern Rakhine states because of the risk of violent attacks, including shootings and bombings.

The security situation in Myanmar is unpredictable and liable to change without notice, said the UK’s foreign ministry. Attacks, including in Yangon and Naypyitaw, primarily continue to target military or junta-affiliated locations such as government buildings and checkpoints, and military-owned businesses, added the warning.

Last year, Myanmar people mostly boycotted Thingyan celebrations in protest at military rule. Anti-junta revolutionary forces also called for a ‘Revolutionary Thingyan’, even as the junta erected pavilions to celebrate the festival for the first time since 2020.