Published on : Tuesday, November 9, 2021
As multiple Southeast Asia countries begin to ease travel restrictions, Myanmar, which boasts some of the region’s most spectacular destinations, has announced that it hopes to begin welcoming international tourists in early 2022.
Most nations that closed their borders over the past two years did so solely to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but Myanmar is also still dealing with the aftereffects of a February 2021 coup in which a military junta overthrew the country’s democratically elected government.
The US State Department currently has two level four “do not visit” alerts for Burma, as it refers to Myanmar, one for its high number of coronavirus cases, and one for the ongoing political situation.
In a separate advisory, it notes Burma is facing a grave political, economic, human rights and humanitarian crisis due to a brutal crackdown by a powerful military that acts with impunity.
Details on reopening plans on Myanmar’s official tourism website are thin at the moment, but reports have suggested the government will initially target visitors from Southeast Asia.
Beyond international vacationers, there are other travellers who will be keen to enter Myanmar as soon as it’s feasible to do so.
China has long nurtured ties with Myanmar even while other countries have imposed sanctions. The country is a strategic part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “Belt and Road” initiative aimed at building regional trade and expanding China’s global influence.
Blackouts and closures
When Myanmar’s doors do open, travelers returning to the country will notice major changes since their last visit.
Pandaw, a Southeast Asia river cruising company specializing in Mekong River tours, announced it was permanently closing operations in Myanmar and the wider region after more than 25 years of operation, blaming both COVID and “the critical political situation in Myanmar.”
International travelers who do decide to visit Myanmar should make sure they are prepared for contingencies, says Todd Handcock, who as Asia Pacific President of Collinson International advises corporate clients on traveling safely and managing risk.
Any company thinking of sending staff to Myanmar should have a “robust travel risk management program” in place, he says. Employees should be fully briefed on what they need to know and how to react when trouble rears its head.
As in the past when Myanmar has been in the control of a military junta, there have been calls both from within and without the country to boycott anything that would profit the military- including the many tourism facilities and destinations its generals control.
Andrea Valentin, a former adviser on responsible tourism in Myanmar, says the issue is complicated.
Valentin says that it is still possible to travel in a way that doesn’t help fund the military regime, although it’s difficult and most businesses are in more rural areas.