Tourism Ministry Moves to License International Tour Companies

By San Yamin Aung 5 February 2015

RANGOON — The government will begin issuing licenses for outbound international tour operators starting from this month, an official from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism said.

Myo Win Nyunt, a director from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the Ministry had released the regulations for outbound tour companies on Feb. 1 and travel companies can now begin applying for licenses to offer overseas trips for Burmese nationals. According to the new regulations, local operators will be able to legally partner with foreign companies.

“Many Burmese citizens are traveling to overseas countries for medical treatment, tourism and other reasons,” he said. “But local travel agencies don’t have the authority to offer overseas travel. Now customers will have legal guarantees and can complain if companies provide poor service.”

Ordinary Burmese citizens have long been subject to onerous restrictions on international travel, and the 1993 Tourism Law, which remains in effect despite growing momentum towards a legislative overhaul, subjects local tour operators and hoteliers to a strict operating framework. The restrictions on outbound tours now being relaxed are the result of a regulatory change at the Tourism Ministry.

As more Burmese citizens are able to travel abroad, Myo Win Nyunt said that a study of travel markets in neighboring countries and extensive consultations with operators and the Union of Myanmar Tourism Association has prompted a redrafting of ministry rules on travel.

Eligible tour companies will need to have operated for at least two years and prove bank deposits of at least 10 million kyats (US$9700) to cover potential legal liabilities.

“The regulation is needed for both companies and customers, so that customers can seek legal redress if they encounter problems during their travel,” said Tin Tun Aung, joint secretary of the Union of Myanmar Travel Association.

Despite the longstanding ban, many local tour companies are already offering international travel packages. A growing number of Burmese citizens are traveling to the Buddhist sacred site of Bodh Gaya in India, along with destinations in Asia and Europe, since the gradual introduction of political and economic reforms in Burma over the last four years.

“Bodh Gaya is the site that most Burmese citizens are traveling to, and Singapore and Bangkok are popular for shopping trips and medical treatment,” said Tin Tun Aung.

The biennial license fee for tour operators currently stands at 400,000 kyats (US$388), with over 1600 companies registered for internal tour operations. Myo Win Nyunt said that the Tourism Ministry expects local companies currently offering international trips to seek accreditation under the new regulations, potentially leading to ramifications further down the line for outbound operators unable to meet required bank deposit levels.