According to the official figure from Myanmar Hotel and Tourism Ministry, the arrival of foreign tourists to Myanmar drop by 25 percent compared to 2007. The foreign tourist arrival to Myanmar in 2007 was 248,076 while the arrival in 2008 was only 193,319, down by about 50,000 visitors.
“Major port of arrival to Myanmar is through Yangon Airport. During and after the Cyclone Nargis, the airport had to be closed down. Recently, the Suwannabumi Airport in Bangkok was also closed due to demonstrations in Thailand. The world economy is also not good. Combined all these had influence the arrival to Myanmar”, said one official from the ministry who does not want to be named.
According to official earlier figure, the tourist arrival to Myanmar in 2007 was 5.9 percent less than that from 2006. The new figure indicates the continuing decline in the foreign tourist arrival to Myanmar for two consecutive years.
“When the tourism is down, all those businesses such as hotels, guest houses, restaurants, shops are affected. This will have effect on all those who depend their life on tourism”, continued the above official. Due to the decline in the number of foreign tourist arrival to Myanmar in 2008, the year was not a very good year for local tour operators. Since the time of Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, many of the tourism companies had lost as much as 50 percent of their yearly revenue. One business man from a tour operator who arranges tours for the European travelers said, “During the first five months after the Cyclone Nargis, there were no visitors at all. At the end of the year, there are license fee and taxes. All these combined and this year ends in loses for us.” Another tour operator also confessed that the visitors in 2008 were down by 35 to 40 percent compared to the previous year.
Experts said that the monks’ uprising in September 2007, Cyclone Nargis in 2008, Thai airport blockade and the world economic problems are the major reasons for the fall in the tourist arrival to Myanmar. One German tour operator said that during the time of the Bangkok Airport blockade, all the tours were canceled. Most canceled up to the end of December. “We only get 10 tour groups after that. That is too bad.” One freelance tour guide also said “Last years, we were very busy with so many visitors. This year, even the tour guides from the tour companies cannot get enough visitors. It was even more difficult for us to get customers this year.”
Although in recent weeks, the tourists are coming back to Myanmar, it is difficult in 2009 to have tourist arrival of the previous years, the above tour guide said. A business man from a tour operator that caters for German and French tourists said that this year, they have to reduce prices so as to maintain their business. He said they have been running at a loss for a few months now. If the condition does not improve, the tour operators will have a difficult year ahead in 2009, he said.
Due to the decline in the tourism industry, other businesses that depend on tourists such as hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, gift shops, car rentals are also facing difficulties. One of the managers from the Traders Hotel in Yangon said “Some visitors from Chinese, Thai, Korea and other Asian countries still coming, although at reduced number. However, those from tour operators are reduced a lot. Visitors this year was very low.”
One car rental service said the car rental in 2008 was down by 30 percent compared to the previous year. Lacquer ware shops in Bagan, the major tourist town in Myanmar, are also facing financial problems this year due to decreased visitor arrival. “This year, the sales are down. We had to reduce our production this year. We even find it hard to sell all we have. The sale is down by half this year. It is even worse for small shops”, said one lacquer ware shop owner from Bagan.
Due to the current economic conditions all around the world, the tourism in Myanmar is not expected to regain in 2009, according to a Burmese economist Khin Maung Kyi. “All over the world, the economy is in turmoil. People are not able to spend a lot of money. Most visitors to Myanmar are from US and Europe. These countries are facing economic problems. Visitors from these countries will fall. 2009 will be a difficult year for Myanmar tourism industry.” Tourists from US and Europe are the major source of income for Myanmar tourism industry.
Another factor that greatly determines the tourist arrival to Myanmar is the political situation in Thailand. Most tourist arrivals to Myanmar are through Thailand, and any instability in Thailand will have bad influence on the Myanmar tourism industry. “During 2008, Bangkok Airport was closed down for a few days. There was also terrorist attack in India. All these directly or indirectly influence the Myanmar tourism industry. We are not sure what would happen in 2009. If anything happens in Thailand, Myanmar tourist industry will be doomed”, he continued.
The official from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism also said “We are trying hard to regain tourism in Myanmar. However, there are things we cannot control. If the world economy is like this, it will be difficult for the Myanmar tourism industry in 2009. However, he said, “We are hoping for the best.”