Tour Operator Claims Wings Clipped by Burma Govt

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 10 September 2015

RANGOON — Aye Kyaw continues to do his job, facilitating clients’ travel to, from and around Burma. The irony, for the managing director of Rubyland Tourism Services, is that last week he learned that he’s been barred by the government from leaving the country himself.

Tension is mounting between Aye Kyaw, the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism and other industry leaders, with the Rangoon-based tour operator saying he’s being “made an example of,” after he criticized the poor state of Burma’s education system at a tourism forum overseas.

In May, Aye Kyaw attended a training in Indonesia on tourism management and hospitality. The event was joined by one other member of the Union of Myanmar Travel Association (UMTA) and Ministry of Hotels and Tourism personnel.

Aye Kyaw, attending in his capacity as a UMTA member, told The Irrawaddy that the two ministry officials on hand apparently did not take kindly to his negative remarks on Burma’s education system, setting in motion his precipitous fall from grace within the country’s booming tourism industry.

A letter from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism dated June 16 accuses Aye Kyaw of acting “selfishly” at the May training, in a manner unbecoming of a UMTA representative. Aye Kyaw’s remarks “harmed the dignity of the country,” the ministry said in the letter, which was headed with a call to action for its recipients, the UMTA and Myanmar Tourism Federation (MTF), urging them to “make an example” of him.

The UMTA abided on July 16, removing Aye Kyaw from its executive committee.

The MTF followed suit in a notification obtained by The Irrawaddy and dated Aug. 3, stating that Aye Kyaw had been placed on a “black list” four days earlier. The notification cited his behavior in Indonesia and noted his unceremonious exit from the UMTA executive committee, but did not elaborate on the implications of the blacklisting.

And while he has known for more than a month of his dismissal from the UMTA, it was not until last Saturday that he discovered he has been banned from traveling outside the country, with immigration officials at Rangoon International Airport putting the kibosh on his planned trip to India.

Aye Kyaw stands by his comments.

“It’s true that I’ve spoken critically about our country’s education system and how it’s been in a bad state since the Ne Win government came to power. But now the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism has reported me to the Ministry of Immigration, and I’ve been barred from traveling,” he said.

“What I said in Indonesia is true: Our education system is still bad. But the ministry has blamed me for this and has also convinced the MTF to blacklist me.”

But Aung Myat Kyaw, chairman of UMTA, told reporters on Wednesday that Aye Kyaw was terminated from his position for failing to abide by the association’s rules.

“We’ve received complaints from the Ministry of Tourism that U Aye Kyaw has not been performing up to standards, and so it [UMTA] decided to take action against U Aye Kyaw and to use him as an example,” he said.

Aung Myat Kyaw added that the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism had sent Aye Kyaw a voice recording of what he said during the training session, as well as a report by the ministry officials who were in attendance. The UMTA chairman said the association had also Aye Kyaw a letter in an attempt to resolve the problem before terminating Aye Kyaw’s executive committee membership, but he allegedly did not respond.

Attempts to reach a spokesperson from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism were unsuccessful.

While the blacklisting appears to have grounded the 65-year-old tourism industry veteran for now, Aye Kyaw said his company continues to operate without impediment, and according to Aung Myat Kyaw, his former executive committee seat has been left open for a replacement from Rubyland.

“We told Aye Kyaw to submit another name for the position of board of directors for his company in order for it to remain a member of the UMTA,” Aung Myat Kyaw said.

The spat looks likely to escalate further, however, with Aye Kyaw filing a criminal complaint against the UMTA, which he has accused of embezzling some 14 million kyats in connection with an Asean tourism forum in Naypyidaw earlier this year.

The UMTA denies any wrongdoing, with association secretary Tin Tun Aung saying it can provide evidence disproving the allegations.

In the meantime, Aye Kyaw said he has another reason for needing to travel, this time reflective of the sorry state of Burma’s health care system: “Because I’ve had a heart attack in the past, I go to Thailand to check up on my health. But I can’t even look out for my health now because I’ve been banned from leaving Burma.”