Over the last couple of months, Burma has been gaining an increasing amount of coverage in Britain’s mainstream media and the articles generally concentrate on whether tourists should visit the country or not. After putting both sides of the argument forward, they quite rightly leave the reader to make an informed and educated decision rather than force an opinion on them. As a tour operator, our decision as to whether we tailor make tours to Burma is a serious one and one that we do not take lightly. First I would like to put some facts forward.
Tourism in Burma has taken a large hit over the last 10 years. In 2002 Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, the icon of the National League for Democracy, was quoted saying: “We have not yet come to the point where we encourage people to come to Burma as tourists” in relation to government mistreating and misleading its citizens. On top of this, early in 2007 the country contended with a violent clash between monks and the police in the capital Yangon and the devastating effects of Cyclone Nargis only a couple of months later. All of these factors have led to Burma being the second least visited country in Asia (second to North Korea), with tourist numbers stretching to 50,000 a year. This may seem a lot, but it is not when you compare it to the tens of millions that travel to India & Thailand every year. It doesn’t help that as an independent tourist, a fair proportion of your money could end up in the hands of the government if you are not cautious. The questions we as a luxury tour operator are asking: ‘Where exactly would our clients’ money go?’ and ‘Would the local people benefit from tourism?’
Certain costs are unavoidable in ending up with the government, such as the visa charge and the airport departure tax. However, a lot of the cost of a trip could end up with local families and benefit them greatly. In order to learn more and answer these questions in more depth, Pippa, our South East Asian specialist, is travelling to Burma from 16th – 28th April 2010. On her trip she will visit Yangon, Inle Lake and its surrounding pagoda’s, Bagan and cruise along the Irrawaddy River on board the Road to Mandalay cruise ship for 3 nights. Upon her return from Burma, she will shed light on the topics and questions surrounding tourism in Burma having gauged the feelings of locals and tour operators. We will then inform you how Ampersand Travel plan to handle organising tours to Burma. Until then, please let us know what you think on the topic.