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The tourism sector in Myanmar thoroughly shattered, new customers are awaited from inside the country as well as from Russia and China by Myanmar’s military council.

Myanmar in times of the festival of Thadingyut.

Travel season is starting in Southeast Asia. People from all over the world will come to visit its people, beaches, landscapes, and cultural landmarks.

Myanmar always had to compete with Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and to a lesser degree with Laos and Cambodia.

Now, there will not be any competition at all, at least when it comes to visitors from Western countries. They just do not show up in Myanmar. In 2022, 200 000 tourists had come to the country, among them very few Westerners.

According to Frontier Myanmar, in 2012 1,6 million tourists had come to “the Golden Country”, whereas in the peak year of 2015, almost 4,7 millions had found their way to Myanmar.

Now, the nationwide political situation has resulted in travel warnings and boycott calls. Myanmar’s actual image as a war-torn country means simultanously a destroyed image as a travel destination.

But worrying about an image in times of extreme political unrest is second next to other considerations.

For example, the question of the degree of danger one is exposed when travelling to Myanmar should change to: How dangerous is it actually for the people in Myanmar to have contact with people from abroad in times, when the good of information is extremely sensitive?

In any case, since 2017 the tourist sector has become a catastrophe for all who had worked in it. In January 2021, shortly before the coup,  already 70% of the jobs in Myanmar’s tourist sector had become „redundant“.

The war-like situation in Rakhine in 2017/18 was followed by the pandemic in 2020 and the coup d’état in 2021. As a result, everything which had ever been built up in Myanmar’s tourist industry after 2011, has now been completely shattered.

Domestic Tourism in Myanmar

Foto: Gavin Fernando

Whereas few “foreigners” have shown up in post-coup Myamar, a restart in domestic travelling has taken place since April 2022. Hotels got their bookings, especially those able to provide safe electricity.

Going to the beaches as well as to the ruins of Bagan or other typical touristic destinations is being interpreted as the wish to „have a normal life again”.

According to an analyst, this kind of „travel lust“ originates  in people’s limited capacity to suffer. The desire to live „a more pragmatic life“ is seemingly stronger than any fears. As a consequence, some of the People’s Defense Forces (PDFs) mourn that people would become „indifferent“ to the cause of resisting the military.

The Russian-Chinese Orbit

People from the Russian-Chinese orbit are now in the focus of Myanmar’s tourism strategy under the State Administration Council (SAC).

Obviously, those potential customers are categorized as less sensitive to Myanmar’s current situation than other tourists are.

During the 8th Eastern Economic Forum held by the Russian Federation in Vladivostok (10th to 13th September) a MoU between Russia and Myanmar was produced targeting bilateral cooperation in the tourism industry.

Direct flight connections have been established between Myanmar and Sibiria’s Lake Baikal as well as the port of Vladivostok.

When it comes to China, a new “International Tourism Alliance of Silk Road Cities” was launched in the early days of September 2023 in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen/Jiangxi province. That alliance includes also Myanmar’s capital Nay Pyi Taw.

Clearly, this is a political decision, to be interpreted as a good-will gesture from China towards the SAC.

Myanmar’s capital, built in the early 2000s, has never been a silk road station nor a commercial hub in times, when the caravans went down from China to Europe, back and forth. It simply did not exist.

The Future of Myanmar’s Tourism

What  is next? The look into the crystal ball remains opaque, when it comes to the future of  Myanmar’s tourism industry.

Experts predict two things: a full recovery will not be possible and improvement of the situation will not start before the years of 2025 to 2027.

Germany for example, once highly engaged in Myanmar’s tourism sector, has stopped almost all its activities related to “responsible tourism”. That engagement is history.

The foreign aid caravan has moved on, for example to the country of Uzbekistan.

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