Is the Rohingya crisis affecting tourism in Myanmar?
AMID ongoing violence in its northern Rakhine State, Myanmar has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Attacks by armed rebel groups are resulting in the burning of villages of the marginalized Rohingya Muslim community, extrajudicial killings, and shootings of civilians attempting to flee.
The United Nations labelled the situation of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. While the violence is centered in the townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung away from the tourist-heavy areas of Yangon, Mandalay, and Bagan, the general sentiment around the embattled nation could affect inbound numbers.
TTG Asia reported that travelers are being warned to stay away from Myanmar altogether as more travel advisories are being issued and overseas bookings are being canceled.
— Robyn Eckhardt (@EatingAsia) August 28, 2017
In a desperate bid to control the situation, Myanmar Tourism Marketing issued a “neutral” statement about how “tourism is a good way to connect people and to bring development and peace all over Myanmar for everybody from any race or religion”.
“We do call to tourists all over the world to continue visiting Myanmar.. especially now it’s important to make [a] conscious decision and choose to support everybody in the country,” the statement said.
“It’s also one of the most welcoming and friendly countries in the world and very, very safe to visit as long as you stay within the green areas. The green areas in the map provided by the UK Foreign Office are safe to travel and will easily keep you busy for even up to 6 weeks.”
The body made clear its support for displaced people in the Rakhine State and outside the state close to the Bangladesh border.
Khin Zin Mar Win, managing director at Anoma Travel Incentive, told Travel Wire Asia at the recent ITE HCMC, that tourism in Myanmar is “100 percent normal”. She said, “This is a political issue for the border trade in Myanmar; tourism is a separate issue.”
However, the Mrauk U town in the Rakhine State, important for its historical and cultural tourism, is seeing lower numbers. The town is home to a slew of temples and pagodas, as well as Ngapali Beach, home to many beach resorts.
“We will postpone until further notice to promote [Mrauk U],” Khin Zin said.
Foreign direct investment – a segment of MICE tourism – is also affected as heart-wrenching images of the Rohingya community flood regional and global news, effectively shifting mindsets of foreign investors.
“The problem is that the media announces the wrong news especially BBC and CNN. 99 percent of the news is wrong news. Our government and our leader Aung San Suu Kyi will handle it to become good news and manage it with the United Nations,” she added.
Rohingya refugees flee violence into Bangladesh only to be told they’re a blight on beach tourism https://t.co/RoBl7HdccN
— Seeking Security (@pri_security) September 7, 2017
On top of that, the violence is resulting in fewer incentive groups in Maldives; the Islamic country severed trade ties with Myanmar in early September.
A press release issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Maldives reads: “The Maldives is deeply concerned by the recent cycle of violence that resulted the death of dozens of Rohingya Muslims and displacing several thousands.”
Until the Myanmar government proves that measures are being taken to subside the violence against Rohingya Muslims, the Maldives will continue to implement the ceasing of trade between the two countries, and has called the UN to look into the “grave violations of human rights”.
Overall, travel agents and buyers are not flinching just yet, but are predicting that the real impact of this year’s violence would be felt next year. Edwin Briels, managing director of Khiri Travel Myanmar, told TTG Asia that while Myanmar is making international headlines, the country has always had restricted areas, and that most of the country is still safe to visit.
He added that the “ethical thing to do” was for tourists to “not give up on Myanmar”.
Meanwhile, May Myat Mon Win, Myanmar Tourism Marketing chairwoman, said: “We hope for a speedy and peaceful resolution of the situation in Northern Rakhine. We would like to assure travelers that Myanmar’s key tourist destinations and cities are safe.”