Can Chinese tourists save Myanmar’s floundering travel industry?
Myanmar saw its international visitor arrivals surged from 792,000 in 2010 to 4.7 million in 2015, according to CEIC Data. Then, in 2016, arrivals suddenly dropped to 2.9 million, a downturn of 38%, amid political and economic concerns, as well as a lack of tourism management. Arrivals have since crept back up in number, but they remain well below their peak and Western tourists are staying away.
Last month, speaking to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency, the deputy permanent secretary of Myanmar’s Hotels and Tourism Ministry, Hlaing Oo, claimed the final tally of visitors in the year was expected to top 6 million, largely because of an increase in travelers from China following a relaxation of visa regulations last October.
The Myanmar Times reported that the influx of Chinese has been accompanied by another unwelcome development: zero-dollar tours. These all-inclusive packages are popular with visitors from China for their affordability but they come with a catch – tourists are taken only to Chinese-owned businesses and are often strong-armed into buying overpriced souvenirs.
Nevertheless, a senior tourism official, who spoke to the Turkish news agency on condition of anonymity, said there were no plans to take action against zero-dollar tour operators. For the time being, at least, the country seems content to accept all the arrivals it can get.