Myanmar’s open invitation to foreign tourists “exceeding expectations”

European visitors to Myanmar have traditionally relied on small escorted tours, a phenomenon which may be past its sell-by date.

Myanmar formally reopened to international tourism last April amid speculation that nobody would go because of last year’s coup and the junta’s suppression of human rights. But the first five months have seen 65,000 e-visas already issued for tourism purposes. The compulsory electronic visa, which requires submission of a vaccination certificate and inhouse Covid insurance, may only be used at Yangon international airport. Land borders remain closed for tourism purposes.

The Global New Light of Myanmar, a government mouthpiece, said that the figures were better than anticipated and increased job opportunities for citizens as well as earning much-needed foreign currency. It also pointed out that the number of recorded Covid infections in Myanmar was much lower than any other country in south east Asia. The most popular tourist areas are Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake, the so-called safe areas, whilst some other regions are still off-limits to non-military personnel because of the insurgency.

Meanwhile, the Myanmar Tourism Entrepreneurs Association said that a tourism exhibition would be held in Yangon’s Expo Hall later this month for airlines and travel tour companies to promote domestic packages and special offers in order to revitalize the pandemic-hit industry. The exhibition is being organized by Malaysia-based Tarsus Exhibitions Syndicate which promises up to 50,000 visitors and 500 exhibitors, mostly local and foreign travel companies. These optimistic figures appear to be based on historical events.

Most foreign visitors this year have been Chinese, Indian and Dubai nationals. Although Yangon international airport has less than a dozen foreign flights per day, there are now direct links with an increasing number of Asian cities including Seoul, Taipei, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, the United Arab Emirates and several capitals in both China and India. However, the most frequent daily schedules are to and from Bangkok which acts as a Mynamar transit point for worldwide flights.

Although Myanmar remains a pariah state in the eyes of most western governments, the junta is fasting developing political and trade links with Moscow and Beijing in particular. It has also enjoyed a generally-neutral attitude displayed by the ASEAN cartel of which Myanmar is a member. In its pre-Covid heyday, Myanmar attracted 4 million foreign tourists a year, mostly westerners on escorted tours. Coup leader and prime minister General Min Aung Hliang is betting that this number can be reached again in the upcoming post-Covid era. But without a dependency on European, American and Australian passports.