Despite comparatively low infection numbers and widespread safety measures, the country’s burgeoning tourism industry is losing its momentum.
Ministry of Hotels & Tourism was reporting a mere 111 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Suspected cases were approaching 5,000, while lab results confirmed that more than 4,500 tested were negative for the novel coronavirus.— As of April 20th, 2020, Myanmar’s
While the spread appears to be under control, there is still a great deal of uncertainty as to how the situation will evolve in the coming months. What is certain is that Myanmar’s tourism sector is already seeing much of its recent progress come undone, as many Burma trips are canceled.
Myanmar Quest CEO gives firsthand account of COVID-19 response
Richard Pol is the founder of Myanmar Quest, a boutique travel organization that creates customized tours of Myanmar’s many villages, temples, and natural wonders.
Pol was in Yangon when COVID-19 began provoking border closures and cancelled flights, and remains there today. International flights are now banned, and visa extensions are required for those riding out the pandemic in Myanmar.
“The response was immediate,” Pol says. “Hotel personnel and temple guides began checking temperatures and carefully surveying anyone who was experiencing symptoms.”
Pol additionally reports that there are still foreigners present, albeit fewer than when the crisis began. However, there are no signs of panic. “Calm, centered, and cautious,” is how the mood can be described, as temples either close or limit their hours, and restaurants ditch eat-in dining for takeout-only.
“There is less traffic, every day looks like a Sunday,” Pol explains. “There are still some shops open.” Yangon is not experiencing waves of panic buying, as seen in the US, as residents and foreigners merely keep their distance and follow the safe practices recommended by many of the world’s leading health authorities.
Tourism sector’s ability to bounce back in question as Myanmar trips decline
Myanmar’s response to the growing pandemic was immediate, but so were the economic impacts.
Myanmar felt the financial squeeze earlier than many others. Their shared border with China was closed as soon as it became apparent the coronavirus would not be contained.
In business and travel, Myanmar relies heavily on China, which makes the most substantial investments in its tourism sector. The border closures and travel restrictions have already resulted in substantial job losses even outside of tourism.
Myanmar still angling to attract travelers post-pandemic
There are no clear answers as to when international travel will ramp up again. It is likely that Myanmar’s struggle to regain momentum as a hot travel destination will be markedly more difficult than other countries in the Southeast - even those with much greater infection rates.
Myanmar was very early in its travel renaissance, as it only began welcoming visitors in the last few years. It continues to work to overcome media perceptions and misunderstandings over the size and diversity of its population; problems that could persist as the pandemic exacerbates travel concerns.
However, there is still a chance that Myanmar tourism will truly thrive in the post-COVID world. Travelers who want to avoid large crowds of other foreigners will find refuge in Myanmar’s spacious, beautiful regions unmarred by Western influences and commercialism. Perhaps more than that, they will find that the people and businesses of Myanmar still welcome them with open arms.
About Myanmar Quest
Myanmar Quest is committed to supporting the efforts of Myanmar’s Hotels and Tourism Ministry. In turn, this strengthens the economy supporting the people of Myanmar.
Working with Myanmar Quest, clients choose from existing packages or build their own tours around which destinations are most attractive to them. Guests can build trips where hiking and wildlife watching is a primary focus, join in vibrant festivities with locals, or a bit of both.
Video URL: https://youtu.be/D3zlSLY_MtM
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