Troubled Myanmar struggles with tourist demand

An ancient Buddha statue in Rakhine state’s Kothoung temple. Source: Shutterstock

A RECENT report on Bloomberg revealed that unregulated construction has led to a glut of hotel rooms in Myanmar.

Since the state’s emergence on the tourist radar in 2011 after years of military rule, Myanmar hasn’t truly captured the market in Southeast Asia.

According to the report, this could be due to a number of reasons including safety concerns. Thet Lwin Toh, chairman of the Union of Myanmar Travel Association, told the publication, “There is no safe travel in the northern part of the country and [it] gets a lot of bad press.”

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Bad press also surrounds the military-endorsed killings of Rohingya Muslims, and in January, a government officer was shot and killed following calls to mobilize support for the minority group.

According to a separate report on The Guardian, tourist numbers began to plunge in 2012 when religious and ethnic violence took place.

On top of that, poor structures have damaged national heritage sites such as in Bagan. A 6.8-magnitude earthquake which rocked the area last year damaged dozens of temples and many had been covered with scaffolding to prevent further damage.

In fact, archaeologists are scrambling to protect Myanmar’s ruined temples, fortifications and storehouses, especially in the case of Mrauk U, said to be “the greatest physical manifestation of Rakhine’s rich history and culture”.

SEE ALSO: How Myanmar’s recent earthquake put Bagan on the tourist map

Meanwhile, Inle Lake, once a serene lake populated by villagers, is now clogged with garbage and is devoid of proper waste disposal facilities. To protect the natural landscape, waste collection drives have been organized.

Myanmar’s Ministry of Hotels & Tourism plans to target 7.5 million visitors by 2020 equating to US$10.2 billion in revenues, but if safety and maintenance issues continue to hinder tourists, those numbers could be but a fantasy.

SEE ALSO: Myanmar to tax tourists, travelers with business visa soon