The hluttaw has voted in favour of a proposal by President U Htin Kyaw which would see the country join a tourism coordination project for the Greater Mekong Sub-region.
While Pyidaungsu Hluttaw MPs were keen to greenlight the initiative, which is expected to provide a boost to the country’s burgeoning tourism industry, they also urged the Minister for Tourism U Ohn Maung to implement the project in a sustainable way, while being mindful of some of the potential pitfalls of greater regional integration.
“We must carefully ensure that we don’t lose valuable ancient resources or expose our country to contagious diseases,” said MP U Maung Maung Latt (NLD; Sagaing 9).
He noted that the more tourists can be attracted to the country, the more income can be earned off the industry. According to the Myanmar Tourism Federation’s U Kyaw Min Htin, Myanmar is a high yield tourist destination, with visitors on average spending over $1,400 while visiting the country.
Tanintharyi MP U Han Win Thein (NLD; Tanintharyi 4) also asked the government to confront the issue of sex tourism and what higher tourist numbers may mean for clandestine sex work in the country.
Several Southeast Asian countries, particularly Cambodia, are thought to attract significant numbers of child sex tourists. Myanmar has not yet developed a similar reputation, but tour operators caution it could happen if the industry and authorities are not vigilant.
The nine MPs who debated the president’s proposal presented ideas to the Minister for Tourism about potential tourist destinations that could be emphasised under the new regional strategy.
Elephant-based tourism in the Bago mountain range and island-hopping adventures in Tanintharyi region were among the ideas proposed.
Minister U Ohn Maung agreed to take all of the MPs suggestions and concerns into consideration when implementing the regional agreement.
“Our ministry will do all it can for the health and security of travellers,” he said.
The minister also spoke of other initiatives his department would be undertaking in 2017 to encourage tourism, including participating in International Travel Promotions exhibitions in Singapore and Berlin. Recently it was announced that the number of foreign visitors travelling to Myanmar has decreased on 2015 figures. Ministry data showed that as of the end of September this year 3.1 million tourists had visited the country, compared with 3.3 million over the same period in 2015. However, some have criticised the way Myanmar tallies tourists from arrival figures.
In order to coordinate the implementation of a Greater Mekong tourism strategy, minister U Ohn Maung confirmed that an office will be established in Bangkok. The agreement will promote cooperation among governments and civil society groups in the six-member grouping, including China, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar.
Translation by Khine Thazin Han and Emoon