Authorities urged to take action against growing zero-dollar tourism

The proliferation of zero-dollar tourism, sometimes known as zero-budget tourism, is prompting calls for action against such operations, which are largely run by Chinese nationals for tourists from China.

Such tours have become a bane to the tourism industry of the region, with a crackdown by the Thai government in recent years highlighting the abuses of zero-dollar tourism. Popular destinations such as Jeju, South Korea and Bali, Indonesia have also been hit by such scams, which often involved coercing tourists to buy lesser quality souvenirs at higher prices.

Zero-dollar tourism began expanding after Myanmar eased visa requirements for visitors from China by allowing them to get visas on arrival for a period of one year from the beginning of last October to the end of this September to boost tourism.

Since then, tourist numbers from these countries have increased, with 650,000 Chinese visitors in the first four months of 2019, an increase of 30 percent from the same period last year, data from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism showed.

In response to complaints from local tour operators, Business License Department Director U Myo Win Nyunt said arrangements were being made with the tourism committees of regional and state governments for action to be taken.

Essentially, zero-dollar tourism involves Chinese tourists buying very cheap tour packages from companies registered in the destination country but owned by Chinese nationals with little or no involvement from local tour operators and businesses. The package involves tightly planned itineraries of hotels, restaurants and retail shops connected to these Chinese tour operators.

Due to the way in which these tours operate, the local economy does not benefit much and governments often lose out on tax revenue as payments often routed through Chinese digital platforms skirt taxes.

No data on how much revenue Myanmar may have lost through such digital transactions have been made available. Recently, Nepal banned Alipay and WeChatPay to stem the lost of income through such transactions.

In Myanmar, the Central Bank in April allowed WeChat to be used in 14 limited areas under a three-month trial period. It will review feedback and reports from the companies allowed to use WeChat and decide whether to officially allow the app after the trial.

A local tour guide, Ko Pan Min, said these tours harm the country’s image. “These tour guides learn a few words of the Myanmar language, disguise themselves by wearing traditional clothing and fleece these tourists, who have bad experiences and will not return,” he said.

“We can reduce such scams by ensuring that rules and regulations are written in Chinese at the destinations frequented by Chinese tourists,” Ko Pan Min, who speaks Mandarin, said.

Another tour guide, U Moe Din, said the influx of zero-dollar tours have hurt his business. “Previously, even when there were fewer tourists, I have my regular customers. Now, my business has been hit,” he said.

Stakeholders in the local tourism industry have also asked the government to reconsider the visa-on-arrival privilege granted to Chinese visitors, since the problems related to zero-dollar tourism have become worst after visa restrictions were eased.

Myanmar Tourism Federation Vice Chair U Khin Aung Tun urged for more cooperation between the tourism committees of the states and regions and the private sector to curb such activities.

On June 8, a survey to collect records of tour guide licenses was conducted at tourist destinations in Yangon, such as Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda and the National Museum, by the Myanmar Tourist Guides Association (MTGA).

The survey revealed that three out of ten Chinese tour groups did not have any licensed tour guides. Four out of nine Thai tour groups and one out of three Korean tour groups are also organised by unlicensed vendors, according to MTGA.

Results of the survey will be submitted to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism so that licensed tour guides do not face unfair competition and that the international visitors can acquire actual information about Myanmar tourism. – Translated

Source: Myanmar Times

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