Despite a Tarnished Image, Myanmar Optimistic About its Tourism

Myanmar, tourist arrivals, Rohingya, marketing, U Ohn Maung

Recent headline news about violence against the Muslim minority of Rohingya are jeopardizing the efforts made by the country in recent years to show a more democratic and tolerant image. It’s also affecting tourism from some countries, but authorities remain optimistic.

The question on the lips of many travellers is: “Should I go to Myanmar with the current violence happening against the Rohingya minority?”

Images from international television, and reports from many news agencies, about the tragedy that has been going on for almost a year now, is of course causing concerns in travellers planning on coming to Myanmar. The situation has been made even worse by the purge against Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar military having been described as “ethnic cleansing” by top UN officials. Myanmar has been swift to rebuff UN allegations. Meanwhile, more than 600,000 Rohingya people fled from Northern Rakhine State across the border to Bangladesh in recent months.

“The truth will come out”, said an irritated Myanmar Minister of Tourism, U Ohn Maung. The Minister came to the recent Cambodia Travel Mart in Siem Reap to officially finalize an agreement with Cambodia for the common promotion of the two archeological sites of Bagan and Angkor Wat.

Truth or not, many tour operators in some countries report some slowdown in demand from travellers for this nation. This is the case for Western Europeans, but it’s also coming from Malaysia and Indonesia where governments have expressed many times their concern over the Rohingya treatment.

“We still see growth for this year, although it has been slower than expected,” said¬†Mrs Khin Than Win, Deputy Director General of the Myanmar Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, also present at CTM in Siem Reap. “We are likely to see some 3.2 million international arrivals this year, up from 2.9 million last year,” she indicated. That represents a growth of over 10%, however down from a 22% increase recorded during the first half of the year.

The number will however still far below the result of 2015, when Myanmar officially recorded 4.68 million international arrivals.

In a recent report, the International Monetary Fund forecast an economic rebound in Myanmar this year, but also underlined that the Rohingya refugee crisis may dampen investment as the country faces international pressure over its treatment of its Muslim minority. Cancellations of tour groups and individual travellers have been experienced by tour operators since August. While there is a definitive boycott movement from some Western countries, other such as Japan, Australia and other Asian countries merely cite “safety concerns”.

With a tarnished image in some markets, is Myanmar planning any additional budget or a special promotion campaign over the months to come? “We do not adjust our marketing strategy over emotional perception. However, I can already tell that we plan a large international marketing campaign in 2019 under the theme “Magical Myanmar”. We will soon provide more details about this future campaign,” remarked Tourism Minister U Ohn Maung.