Support the tourism industry in Myanmar

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Support the tourism industry in Myanmar

Like the whole world, I am shocked at the events unfolding in Myanmar (Burma) since the military coup in early February. I would have wished for a diplomatic solution to take hold, but tragically so far, guns have spoken louder than words.

I am in constant touch with our managers in Myanmar and with many of my personal friends and I hear their words loud and clear: Do not forget us.

Myanmar is a country I love deeply, having lived there for many years. It is a wonderful place for tourists to visit, with local people that have always welcomed visitors with open arms. When I ask tourists after their visits what they liked most about the country, the answer I most often get is ‘the people’. Myanmar touches one’s heart.

The country has some of the most interesting cultural sights in Asia, unforgettable landscapes with mountains, lakes, desert plains and kilometres of beaches; vibrant cities with a colonial flair; colourful markets like few other places in the world; and welcoming people in every corner of the nation. Let’s not forget this when we see and read the news these days.

One day this will be over. I pray for this to happen very soon and this will be the time when the Myanmar people will need our support, in particular the support of the tourism industry.

Like everywhere in the world, tourism employs millions of people, as it does in Myanmar: hotels, restaurants, transport, tour companies, guides, to name just a few. These are operations that employ people from all walks of life, but many are from the middle class. They get a chance at life by being engaged in the tourism sector – an opportunity that provides for their families and improves their livelihoods.

In the nineties, a niche tourism industry re-started in Myanmar after years of complete, global isolation. These were the years that I lived in Yangon and I could see how tourism was making a difference in the lives of mostly very poor people. Not just livelihoods improved, as at that time there was no social media and limited news, so foreign visitors were a window – a glimpse to the outside world.

With few exceptions, the tourism infrastructure is largely owned by private people and not as some might think the military. Hotels, restaurants, transportation companies, tour companies and even some of the domestic airlines are privately owned. We will always be transparent with whom we work with and where the money goes to.

We, as the tourism industry, play an important role and we must support the Myanmar people. As soon as it is safe to travel, it is our job to help bring tourists back to the country. I appeal to our clients not to drop Myanmar from their programmes and their brochures. Whereas there will be little initial demand, it is hoped that a diplomatic solution can be found soon so the country can get back on track.

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