Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Myanmar’s military government is moving to reopen its tourism sector to foreigners early next year, seeking to lure visitors from Asia amid an easing Covid-19 outbreak even as the death toll from political violence continues to rise.

The government is betting on travel arrangements with countries including Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, union minister for hotels and tourism Htay Aung said. The recent lifting of a ban on interprovincial travel and a slew of traditional holidays have already spurred some locals to go on vacation, he said.

Foreign tourists are unlikely to return in large numbers to Myanmar’s pagodas and beaches as the country continues to see sporadic clashes between security forces and groups opposed to February’s military takeover. In a rare move, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations over the weekend agreed to exclude junta leader Min Aung Hlaing from a regional summit later this month due to insufficient progress in reaching a political settlement.  

About 300,000 foreigners are expected in the first phase of the reopening, Htay Aung said. Later on Myanmar would look to allow visitors from Japan, China and South Korea, he added. 

“We are preparing for necessary arrangements for travel bubbles with Thailand so that we will be ready when they reach out to us through an official channel,” he said. “We also aim at reopening to Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam in the first quarter of 2022.”

The goal is to open so Thais can safely visit popular tourist destinations in and around Kawthoung, Myeik, Dawei, Tachileik and Kyaington, Htay Aung said. Thailand last week unveiled plans to drop quarantines for fully vaccinated visitors from some countries starting on November 1 in a bid to kick-start its own tourism industry.  

Myanmar borders five countries — Thailand, China, India, Bangladesh and Laos — and still has a ban on international commercial flights imposed in the wake of the coup. Nearly 1,200 people have been killed and more than 7,000 have been detained since then, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a human-rights organisation. 

Though half of the country’s hotels and guest houses have suspended operations, about 90,000 rooms are still available, Htay Aung said. 

Kempinski Group, Europe’s oldest luxury hotel chain, announced last week that it was ceasing operations in the nation’s capital Naypyidaw due to “current circumstances”, without providing more details.

Myanmar’s economy probably contracted 18.4% in the fiscal year ended September 30, according to the latest report by the Asian Development Bank, which did not provide a forecast for fiscal 2022 due to “uncertain situation”. Tourism contributed about 6% of Myanmar’s GDP in 2019 before the pandemic, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. 

“The potential is there but it will take years to return to the level we reached before the pandemic,” Htay Aung said. 

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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