Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been reported as one of the potential major tourist destinations to travel in a post-COVID world alongside with six other nations; The Philippines, Iran, Georgia, Tunisia, Slovenia and Ethiopia by Forbes on May 31, 2020.
“Prominent tourist destinations such as Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia have already propelled Southeast Asia into a world-class destination for tourists, but the region is still rife with hidden gems,” Forbes described Myanmar in the list.
Bagan, Myanmar – home to over 2,200 temples which still remain from 11th to 13th centuries, is now more than a major tourist attraction as the oldest archaeological zone of the nation was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2019. Not only Bagan, Myanmar also has prominent destinations that are still ubiquitous with hidden gems and amazing people.
Across the world, the tourism sector had gravely suffered from the novel Coronavirus since December 2019, when it started in Wuhan province in mainland China that had infected more than 10 million in total according to the reports by WHO on 29 June 2020. The world has lock downed and kept billions of people at home, death tolls in the world’s most developed nations such as Italy, United Kingdom, US, France and so forth, has increased rapidly over the past three months, and led anxieties to post-pandemic revolutions today. Myanmar which has a late start in detecting the virus, now has 286 infections, 192 recoveries and 6 deaths as reported on June 19, 2020.
So how does it affect the economy of a country? Well, tourism is a double-edged sword which has both positive and negative impacts. In Myanmar, we have seen a moderate domestic aftermath from the global pandemic, following the isolation of the world. The same things happened with the country by leading many factory workers jobless as the investors moved out.
Yangon, an ever-bustling city of Myanmar and a second capital, has taken part in the important part to enhance the country’s economy in multiple ways. With its 2,500 years old sacred Shwedagon Pagoda that is gilded with relics of the four previous Buddhas and numerous English colonial buildings, there is, undoubtedly, an upswing in economic activity of Myanmar every year.
In Myanmar, tourism is not just about hotels, airlines or travel agencies. There are people who work in the restaurants and other tourism-related fields where they earn money. Thus, in countless ways, tourism supports an estimated 800,000 jobs in the nation. And the positive impact is an increase in job opportunities for locals as the industry has developed which leads to reliable income. But for the negative, the most visited destinations will suffer from being packed tourist spots that would lead to unsustainable tourism.
This year, the deadly virus has slaughtered Myanmar’s tourism and as recorded in April 2020, we’ve seen 86% decrease in the revenue which is a total chaos for the industry.
Suki Singh, Managing Director of Myanmar Hotels International and Vice President Operations Myanmar at GCP Hospitality was part of the Facebook Live panel discussion series “COVID-19 Wave and Myanmar Tourism Industry” held by Myanmar Tourism Marketing (MTM) on May 13, 2020.
He declared that, “The impact on Myanmar is large, but may be lesser than other countries which have much more dependency on tourism or how much larger the revenues are involved. This is also a time for us to step back and look at what we do well and what we need to improve.”
If we look into the world’s chart, in line with the United Nation World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the Middle East has seen 8% increase with its fast-growing tourism, followed by Asia and the Pacific, which were up 5%. In Europe and Africa, international travel has increased 4%, while the United States came up with the growth of just 2%. Due to trade tensions and restrictive visa policies, it was actually down 1.3%, and with air travel from China due to the coronavirus, there could only be a downward bias in the future, expats say.
Zurab Pololikashvili, General Secretary of UNWTO, told Handelsblatt newspaper on 28 May 2020 that International tourism is set to fall by 70% this year, marking the sector’s biggest slump since records began in the 1950.
Despite its Rohingya issue, surprisingly, Myanmar has become one of twenty fastest-growing travel destinations across the world and it has a 40.2% increase in visitors as of February 2020.
According to the MoHT, Myanmar received 3.44m international visitors in 2017, an uptick of 18% compared to 2016. As of October 2018 the total number of arrivals for the year stood at 2.84m, a slight increase when compared to the 2.81m who arrived over the same period in 2017. Likely, in the post-COVID world, it would be an interesting phenomenon in Myanmar’s tourism history if it actually became one of the major tourist destinations in the world as Forbes mentioned.
Today, globally, Accor have closed 62% of their hotels, Myriad has closed 25% and Hilton has closed thousands of hotels following other chains. Myanmar, nonetheless, has now reopened restaurants, businesses and domestic travel has moved forward as it ramps up again.
WE HAVE A VERY UNSPOILT COUNTRY, WITH THE FORESTS, BEACHES, MOUNTAINS, CULTURES, HISTORY, YOU NAME IT AND IT’S HERE – RIVER CRUISING, BALLOONS, ETC., – THE WHOLE SPECTRUM. WE HAVE A LOT TO LOOK FORWARD TO.
“Obviously the biggest access in Myanmar that everyone knows is the amazing people. The welcoming, kind people. They provide an environment that everyone talks about when they go back to their own countries after visiting here. We have a very unspoilt country, with the forests, beaches, mountains, cultures, history, you name it and it’s here – River cruising, Balloons, etc., – the whole spectrum. We have a lot to look forward to”, added Suki Singh in the discussion.
We foresee, in the post-COVID world, people will continue to travel yet probably reduce the frequency of trips in a year and make each trip more meaningful. So instead of doing 3-4 times a year on holiday they will go 1-2 times and make that trip really special. It means not just ticking off boxes of destinations but getting a real sense of a country’s culture, people and food. Thus, travellers will probably avoid the crowded tourist destinations, places like Paris, Bangkok and Barcelona which attract huge numbers of tourists each year.
“Myanmar is in an excellent position to become better known as the country that is not overly crowded with tourists and offers individual experiences and value for money so it’s very good news for the Myanmar tourism industry this is recognised by a magazine as Forbes. As Myanmar has also shown that COVID-19 precautions taken by the government have been proven successful so far it will give travellers confidence to feel safe.”
As of now, malls, restaurants, massage parlors and places in Myanmar have gradually reopened after lockdown and people started going out on the roads. It’d be only a matter of time before everything gets back to normal, well, what we call “a new normal”.
Besides, Myanmar tourism needs more support from its government as the ministry also faces a challenge in giving clear information and direction for tourism business. A news report from Irrawaddy pointed out that 53% of MSMEs did not know what government support is accessible and 21% said it is hard to know since the situation changes all the time.
Be that as it may, popular destinations in Myanmar are Inle lake, Nyaungshwe, Kalaw and Hsipaw in Shan State , Rakhine’s infamous Mrauk U and Ngapali beach, Bagan, Mandalay, Sagaing in dryzone, Hpa An, Myawady in Kayin State and Tanintharyi beaches include Dawei, Kawthaung, Mawlamyine and hundreds of islands in Mergui Archipelago. These places are always packed with tourists during the travel season every year.