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Myanmar junta makes frantic bids to boost tourism

Myanmar, Japan, South Korea, Rohingyas, Russian, Chinese

Leisure

Myanmar junta makes frantic bids to boost tourism

Despite the fact that Myanmar junta is going to face severe legal consequence in the international court for genocide on Rohingyas, authorities are making frantic bids in boosting tourism with the resumption of the e-via and the reopening of some localities to inbound travel. With this goal, hotel workers are offered language classes in Russian and Chinese with expected surge in tourists from these two countries. There also is sponsorship of elephants to encourage foreigners to provide cash for animal welfare. Not to mention huge color ads to promote temples and attractions in newly-opened areas such as Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake. Myanmar also is looking for tourists from Japan, South Korea and Israel.

Sammy Samuels, managing director of tour agency Shalom Myanmar, told the Pattaya Mail that most tourism at present is domestic and spurred by resident expats.

Sampan Travel, which organizes tailor-made trips to Myanmar and India, confirmed that the most important consideration was the physical safety of guests. Although some commentators discourage international tourism on the grounds that the cash benefits the military authorities, tour operators stress that the people of Myanmar need financial and moral support now and that that travel is a job-creating industry.

The junta has given no figures for the sale of tourist e-visas in the past three months, but they are likely miniscule. The passes can be used only on-air journeys as the land borders with Thailand are currently closed to tourist traffic. The timetable of Yangon international airport reveals several regional flights a day, but the majority are operated by Myanmar Airways International. There are weekly flights to Seoul, Kuala Lumpur and a couple of Chinese cities, but the most routes are to and from Bangkok. Returning passengers have confirmed that most passengers are business people or Myanmar nationals, especially guest workers in Thailand.

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According to media, Myanmar’s National Defense and Security Council is facing an uphill battle. Most foreign embassies oppose entry to the country on security and moral grounds. The governmental press agency, Global New Light of Myanmar, downplays or ignores unfavorable news. But the recent revival of executions for political activists and the arrest this month of a Japanese film maker, who was caught loitering near an anti-junta rally in a Yangon suburb, provide disincentives enough.

In 2019, 4.3 million international tourists visited Myanmar, much loved for its pagodas and picturesque landscapes.

The World Bank reports now that the economy remains fragile as civil strife and inflation add to the troubles facing farmers and businesses. Although most economists agree that the financial crisis there is less tragic than the situation in Sri Lanka, Fitch Solutions expects the economy to recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2028.

Myanmar desperately needs foreign tourism as 40 percent of the population meander in poverty. But a revival of international vacations any time soon appears to be a forlorn prospect indeed. Meanwhile, there is serious fear in the minds of a large number of prospective foreign tourists as the country already has earned bad reputation due to its cruel offensives and genocide on religious minorities, including Rohingya Muslims and Christians. Another big challenge for Myanmar to boost foreign tourists is the security aspect, as there is serious risk for the foreign tourists of being kidnapped by the armed insurgency and militancy groups.

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Tajul Islam is a Special Correspondent of Blitz.

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