Virus delays Myanmar tourism’s comeback bid

Things seemed to be looking very bright this year for Myanmar’s tourism industry, which was poised to attract a record number of tourists after two years in doldrums due to the humanitarian crisis in northern Rakhine State.

At the end of last year, the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism said the number of foreign arrivals, including business travellers and border traders, rose by 23 percent to 4.36 million, up from 3.55 million the previous year.

But the upward momentum of the industry took a big hit with the recent outbreak of the new coronavirus in China.

Government data showed that Chinese nationals accounted for nearly a third of the over two million tourists who visited the country last year, a 152pc increase from the previous year.

The coronavirus outbreak in China has killed 170 people since it was first reported on December 31.

At least 20pc of tourist bookings from China have been cancelled, and Chinese airlines have suspended their flights to Myanmar’s key cities of Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw and Mandalay as part of the effort to contain the disease.

“Group tours have been cancelled,” said U Khin Zaw, adviser to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism. “Chinese travellers are more afraid now than when Cyclone Nargis hit the country. It affects the entire tourism sector.”

U Khin Aung Tun, vice chair of the Myanmar Tourism Federation, said that before the outbreak, bookings from China reached over 200,000.

“The main point is that we need to protect our country. If something happens here, the numbers of foreign tourists here may decline.”

Eden, Myanmar’s leading hotel group, said that about 25 percent of its tourist bookings had been cancelled in recent days.

U Than Htut, Eden executive director, said, “Hotels that rely on Chinese tours may be seriously affected.”

Other travel companies refused to share cancellation numbers, but tourism executives said cancellations are happening everywhere.

U Khin Zaw said the coronavirus outbreak provides Myanmar an opportunity to review its policy, which has become focused on Chinese travellers for the past couple of years.

He said the government must diversify the country’s tourist mix and start focusing on Europeans again, who stopped visiting the country after the exodus of 700,000 Muslims from Rakhine in 2017.

U Khin Zaw praised the government’s visa-on-arrival programme for tourists from Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Luxembourg and New Zealand, which started January 1 and will continue for three years.

Minister of Health and Sports Myint Htwe told tourism and hotel executives that while there were no reported cases of coronavirus in the country as of Monday, the true nature of the disease is not yet known, so the country is still in danger.

“Other countries have plans for these kinds of crises, and today’s presentation was very good,” said U Naung Naung Han, head of the Union of Myanmar Travel Association. “We need to be wary and take precautions against the virus.”

But he urged the government to immediately tell the public and the rest of the world if the coronavirus is found in the country.

“We have to let the international community know if we have the virus,” he said, “as it will mean we have a good surveillance system.”

He said Myanmar must help businesses affected by the disease by providing them with timely, accurate information so they can make the necessary preparations. – Translated

Source: Myanmar Times

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