Tourists Shun Myanmar in Wake of Rakhine Crisis
By Zarni Mann 10 October 2017
MANDALAY — Although Myanmar is entering peak season for tourism, tour operators and industry officials have reported a drop in visitors because of the recent conflict in Rakhine State.
Union of Myanmar Travel Association (UMTA) president U Thet Lwin Toe said some booked trips—particularly to Rakhine’s Ngapali Beach—were cancelled in the wake of the latest Rakhine violence.
After self-identifying Rohingya militants attacked 30 police outposts in northern Rakhine on Aug. 25, the Myanmar Army launched a crackdown that has forced more than 500,000 Muslims to flee to Bangladesh.
Tales of rape and killings by security forces are rife among the refugees, while Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), the group behind the Aug. 25 attacks, has also been accused of killing civilians.
“Some trips to Ngapali Beach have been canceled,” said U Thet Lwin Toe. “Trips to other regions like Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake remain unchanged. If positive news could eliminate tourists’ fears of terrorist attacks, the situation would be better.”
U Tint Lwin, director general of the hotels and tourism ministry, said news of the unrest has scared tourists and affected the whole tourism industry.
“There are worries that [tourists] may experience a terrorist attack or have difficultly traveling in the country,” said U Tint Lwin.
According to tour operators based in Rakhine, visitors to the region’s famous sites have declined significantly.
“The number of tourists have declined by half compared to last year,” said Ma Moh, a tour operator based in the ancient Arakanese capital Mrauk-U.
“During this month last year most of the hotels were fully booked,” she said. “Bookings for transport were also full, but this year is quite dry.”
Tour operators across the country have reported a slump in business. Package tours to Bagan, one of Myanmar’s main attractions, have been dropped.
“Compared to last year, the situation is bad for the season. Bookings have been canceled, especially from Europe and the USA. And there have been few independent tourists from those countries compared to last year,” said Daw Maw Maw, a tour operator in Bagan.
Hoteliers and tour operators are hoping for some kind of stability and peace in Rakhine and the surrounding regions, which they say has not only affected tourism but also the security of the whole country.
“Although the effects on the tourism industry are not hugely impactful, we still worry about our own security because the government announced there might be terrorist attacks in big cities,” said U Myint Lwin, a hotelier from Mandalay.
“However, we hope there will be peace and stability in Rakhine State soon. We are also hoping there will be more visitors to our country before the peak tourist season ends,” he added.
According to figures from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, 2.9 million tourists visited the country in 2016. More than 3.5 million tourists were expected for 2017, according to the figures, with about 2.27 million tourists visiting the country from January to August this year.