Tourism Boom on Even Keel Despite Local Instability

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 13 March 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s tourism industry boom shows no sign of abating despite a series of high-profile internal conflicts in recent months, industry figures have told The Irrawaddy.

Conflict between the Burma Army and Kokang rebels in Laukkai, recent police dispersals of student protests and tensions between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the aftermath of an attack on a KIA training camp have all attracted adverse international attention in recent months.

Alhough political stability and security have been perennial concerns for tourists planning travel to Burma, recent events such as the crackdown on student demonstrators have not impacted demand, said Union of Myanmar Travel Association chairman Dr Aung Myat Kyaw.

“So far, I haven’t heard of any cancellations from hotels, travel agents and our member companies in recent days because of the recent crackdown,” Dr Aung Myat Kyaw said.

However, he said that the ongoing conflict in Laukkai may have led to a limited number of cancellations from Chinese tourists.

“Hotels have informed us that some Chinese visitors have cancelled their trip here, so [the Laukkai conflict] may be having an effect on the industry,” he said.

Myanmar Tourism Marketing chairman Phyoe Wai Yar Zar said that strikes and demonstrations were a common occurrence throughout the world and would have no bearing on tourist numbers in Burma.

“The scale of events in Myanmar is manageable, compared to other countries in the region and other parts of the world,” he said. “Political stability is one of the criteria visitors think of first before they plan their trips abroad… It is not good for the tourist industry to have such events in Myanmar. However, it is a domestic problem and cannot be avoided.”

Phyoe Wai Yar Zar added that March was customarily the final month of the tourist high season and tourism arrival numbers would inevitably wane before the end of the 2014-15 fiscal year on Sep. 30.

According to the figures from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, the number of foreign visitors arriving in the first two months of 2015 through Rangoon Airport gateway increased to 193,891, up seven percent from 180,927 arrivals in the first two months of 2014.

Citizens of Asian countries made up just over two-thirds of total arrivals. At 30,000 arrivals, Thailand provided the highest number of Asian tourists, followed by 16,100 from China, 15,400 from Japan and 13,500 from South Korea.

Maung Maung, chairman of the World Quest International travel and tour company said that while he had not received any cancellations for tour packages on the back of recent events, he was concerned about the long-term threat to the country’s image as a result of the student crackdown.

“What the international will see is violence and they won’t accept it,” he said. “I’m concerned about our country’s image being trashed within the international community.”

The Minister of Hotels and Tourism said in January that the government would push an aggressive expansion of the tourism industry, with an aim to reach 4-5 million visitors this year, despite recent criticism of its methods and doubts over the accuracy of visitor figures.

Around 3.08 million tourist arrivals were recorded in 2014, a number that the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism hopes to boost with the expansion of overland entry points, improvements to its e-visa service, negotiating visa waiver agreements with Asean countries and the possible opening of the China-Burma border crossing in Muse to visitors from third countries.