Myanmar junta banks on Chinese surge to boost tourism

The junta hopes to recapture the Chinese tourist market but progress is slow.

The military government of senior general Min Aung Hlaing is hopeful that the country’s ailing economy will be boosted by Beijing’s decision to allow outward-bound travel for its Chinese citizenry. The Myanmar junta allowed foreign tourist entry to restart from April 2022 and, according to the hotels and tourism ministry this week, 170,000 international arrivals have been logged since then – about half Chinese nationals. However, this compares with 4 million international arrivals in a similar period of pre-pandemic 2019.

Myanmar is busy trying to restart Chinese tourism for 2023. Later this month, February 15-17, the Myanmar tourism marketing association is holding a virtual tourism mart with airlines, hotels, travel agencies and cruises all participating. “We have great hope and positivity with regard to our neighbor China in particular,” said Myo Thwin chairman of the association. Meanwhile, Myanmar Airways International is promoting the country in China and Vietnam to visit tourist attractions such as provincial Bagan with its ancient pagodas.

Myanmar army troopers march around Bagan, a UNESCO world heritage site.

The junta has also tried to revive tourism from Thailand. Thai tourists made up the second-biggest arrival numbers before the pandemic. Recently, Thailand’s TV Channel 5, owned by the army, produced a documentary about UNESCO world heritage sites in the Mandalay region. The junta also has good relationships with Russia, but Russian vacationers essentially want beach resorts and that means a six hour drive to Ngwe Saung resort from the sole airport accepting international tourist arrivals which is Yangon.

Keith Rainier, who runs Eastern Dreams with group packages to Myanmar, said there were several problems restarting tourism. “Myanmar’s land borders are closed to tourists and everyone must fly to Yangon airport. The prior documentation required is onerous and includes hotel registration and payment in advance, full anti-covid vaccination records and compulsory medical insurance from the government website.” He doubted any European or Australian revival of interest in the country because of the junta’s appalling human rights record since the military coup of February 2022.

Meanwhile, the military regime has launched a series of propaganda campaigns with the help of artists from film, music and the theater, designed to distract attention from the resistance against the authorities. They include concerts, short movies and even a Teenager movie channel all emphasizing a civilian population happy with the status quo and rule by the armed forces. The moves have been ignored internationally according to the on-line independent newspaper The Irrawaddy. In other words, Myanmar’s tourist revival seems as remote in 2023 as it was last year.