Thursday, July 27, 2017

Travel agencies leaving Myanmar ‘tourists’ overseas to be punished

Travel agencies will face blacklisting if they allow any of their customers to stay behind overseas when their vacation is over, the government has warned. U Myo Win Nyunt, director of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, told The Myanmar Times last week that it will take legal action against tour companies that facilitate the travel of illegal workers overseas.

Meanwhile, one travel professional said there could be as many as 10,000 foreign illegal workers in Myanmar, who entered the country on tourist visas.

U Myo Win Nyunt said agencies would be made responsible for the return of all their customers from overseas trips, and could lose their licence to operate if they failed to do so.

“We haven’t taken action yet since we started issuing licences to out-bound tour companies. But we can take legal action and cancel licences if a company leaves behind a Myanmar citizen overseas,” he said.

U Thet Lwin Toh, chair of the Union of Myanmar Travel Association, said “dishonest” customers had taken package tours with the intention of staying behind in order to look for a job overseas, in countries like Japan, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. This reflected badly both on the tourism industry and national dignity, he said.

“The ministry bears a responsibility because they have issued a licence,” he said. “These days, people can get to foreign countries for just K5 million [US$4200]. Tour companies have to exercise due care.”

Recalling an incident last year, in which a mother had left her daughter behind to find work in Japan, U Thet Lwin Toh said the Japanese Embassy had blacklisted the travel agency concerned.

“Other embassies will do this unless travel agencies take steps to ensure their customers are above board and comply with the rules. Our country’s reputation will be affected,” he said.

U Thet Lwin Toh added that many foreigners in Myanmar are also working illegally on tourist visas acquired through travel agencies.

“It’s time the ministry investigated and took action against illegal foreign workers. More than 10,000 foreigners who came as tourists via a travel agency are working here illegally,” he said, estimating from figures provided by construction sites. “Then they go to Thailand to renew their visa. Some foreigners could also take advantage of the one-month visa-free travel with Singapore [announced on June 8, to come into force in December],” he said.

Daw Hla Darli Khin, managing director of Tour De Myanmar, said even experienced agencies could get into trouble. “Even when a travel agent does background checks on its customers, problems like this can arise,” she said, adding that the tourism ministry should crack down on fake agents who facilitate human trafficking. By checking the lists of names of customers who left the country against those who returned, the ministry could detect “pretend” travel agencies who brought the industry into disrepute.

Daw Zin Mar Aung, sales manager of Gandawun Shwe Bagan Travel & Tours, said, “This will reflect badly on honest companies that do their best. It will mean we have to check the background of our customers before letting them take a trip.”

The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism says it has issued 227 outbound operating licences to travel agencies as of June this year, out of more than 2000 tour companies in the country.