Myanmar: National day celebrates wildlife

Clare Brennan

BBC News, Myanmar

“Tourism is our leading economic driver,” says Minister of International Cooperation, W N Nyein Gyi.

“In our country we are discussing the tourism regulations,” he adds. “We hope to introduce the pilot of tourism there early in early 2022.”

It is a turnaround for a country that has been wracked by conflict, sanctions and civil unrest since 1991.

The tourism budget? A notional $60m this year, up from $50m last year, but it’s peanuts compared to what the country earns from human consumption of one of the greatest renewable resources in the world – energy.

Mr Nyein Gyi is, in the business sense at least, helping the agriculture and energy ministries get focused on tourism, although he has no time to talk about the hotel lobby, its overheads and smoking bans.

Instead the focus is on roads, trade, fisheries and investment. “Agriculture is a great resource and we want to have a link between tourism and agriculture and let people live off tourism. Let’s have tourism in agriculture and tourism in agriculture.”

That all sounds well and good. But the time-frame for tourist arrivals is a big question mark.

Before the turbulent last two years, Myanmar’s opening up to the world had been steady, even if things got busy a few years before.

And tourism itself was not a major part of Myanmar’s economy.

But the phrase tourism is in Myanmar’s official documents almost everywhere, accompanied by corporate logos from the likes of Mastercard, Facebook and Sanofi.

Tourism was only officially recognised by parliament in 2011 and 2009, so those two years of unrest certainly affected the development of the tourism sector.

And the timeline for 2017, the first anniversary of the Aung San Suu Kyi government’s government, is also fraught with difficulty.

Earlier this month a US law that makes it hard for the US government to recognise Myanmar for its transition away from military dictatorship has put the wheels in motion to stop Americans visiting the country.

So the destination that was, and is, a key driver of Myanmar’s foreign exchange earnings is facing a big challenge in getting its tourism foundation sorted out.

Migration, both temporary and permanent, accounts for close to 90% of Myanmar’s national income and the country is, therefore, keen to attract people from within and beyond to one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

A culture of talking to strangers is key to Yangon’s tradition as a metropolis of port city.

But a piece of legislation that could be designed to allow people to make that sort of conversation online, as they chat to one another over the internet, may make it much more difficult.

All that said, it is something that Nyein Gyi knows about. His ministry was launched in November 2015 – less than two months after the military handed over power to Aung San Suu Kyi’s government.

As there are almost no new hotels, and little-known tourist attractions, here in Myanmar the hospitality sector continues to grow at a rapid pace.

But they need an educated workforce to do the work, as well as access to services such as healthcare and international flights.

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