QUANG NAM, Vietnam, 17 October 2022: Myanmar fielded a delegation at the 50th meeting of the Greater Mekong Subregion Tourism Working Group and the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office board meeting, a day before the annual Mekong Tourism Forum hosted by Vietnam opened on 12 October.
The MTCO’s operations are funded equally by the six member countries of GMS, including Myanmar, while MTF is the region’s showcase travel trade event.
Myanmar’s Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, Zeyar Myo Aung, led the Yangon delegation to the official tourism meeting of the six-member countries that comprise the GMS Tourism Working Group. The country members are Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. He also attended the opening ceremony of the one-day Mekong Tourism Forum, representing the first appearance of a senior tourism ministry official at an international travel event since the ASEAN Tourism Forum in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, in January 2022. Myanmar’s Minister of Hotels and Tourism, Htay Aung, limited his attendance at ATF to just government meetings held on the sidelines of the travel show. Similarly, it was a notably low-key encounter at the MTF last week as undersecretary Zeyar Myo Aung attended the government meetings and showed up for the opening session of the one-day MTF that attracted 250 delegates.
In comments made to TTR Weekly just before the MTF opening, Zeyar Myo Aung said Myanmar was using the forum to convey the message that the country was open for visitors and was endeavouring to smooth the tourist experience. But for Myanmar, it’s far from the typical tourist experience. Most country travel advisories warn their citizens to give Myanmar a wide berth. They will likely continue to post high-risk warnings until civil hostilities end, and a democratically elected government is reinstated.
No one is safe in Myanmar, including children. In a report released last June, the United Nations Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews describes the impact of the 1 February 2021 coup on the human rights of children in Myanmar and details the alarming, underreported facts of the violence being perpetrated against them.
“Soldiers, police officers and military-backed militias have murdered, abducted, detained and tortured children in a campaign of violence that has touched every corner of the country,” the report said.
“Over the past 16 months, the military has killed at least 142 children in Myanmar. The military’s attacks have displaced over 250,000 children, and over 1,400 have been arbitrarily detained. At least 61 children, including several under three years of age, are reportedly being held as hostages. The UN has documented the torture of 142 children since the military coup took place on 1 February 2021.”
Zeyar Myo Aung limited his comments to the military junta’s efforts to reopen tourism. Myanmar resumed international flights in April this year even though health requirements still apply for travellers entering Myanmar on international commercial flights. Myanmar and China remain the two GMS members among the six member countries to maintain Covid-19 restrictions and entry rules. For Myanmar, a vaccination certificate is required. Travellers who are unvaccinated or have incomplete Covid-19 vaccination status or those who cannot present valid Covid-19 vaccination certificates will be quarantined and will be tested for the RT-PRC on Day 3 during the quarantine period. Travellers can conclude quarantine once they test negative. Vaccinated visitors must take Antigen Rapid Test (ATK) on arrival. Face masked are required in public spaces.
Predictably Zeyar Myo Aung avoided all references to the military coup and the security risks for travellers who venture to Myanmar, saying the country is monitoring the health situation and hopes the restriction can be eased soon.
“We’re taking a step-by-step approach to welcome back tourists. Currently, travellers from ASEAN countries are the main target. The government of Myanmar reimposed a visa exemption for travellers from ASEAN countries, and now Thailand and Vietnamese travellers are among the biggest sources of tourist arrivals from ASEAN. Also, the country allows tourists from 100 countries to apply for the Tourist eVisa.”
According to the Ministry of Immigration and Population, effective from 1 September 2022, ordinary passport holders from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam can stay for up to 14 days if entering and departing from Yangon, Mandalay, or Nay Pyi Daw international airports. Tourists who want to stay in Myanmar for over 14 days must apply for the appropriate e-Visa. However, Singapore citizens do not require a visa for tourist visits of up to 30 days and can enter and depart from all international checkpoints.
Zeyar Myo Aung said the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism continues to raise awareness for the country’s tourism through participating in regional travel fairs, with online platforms serving as the primary promotional channel. Before the pandemic, the official figures showed that the country attracted 4.36 million tourists in 2019. Today you can count them by the thousand.