Myanmar is a destination that has always been dear to our hearts. News of the military coup in early 2021 hit us particularly hard as we knew full well then, as we do now, that, along with the pandemic, it would drastically impact the tourism industry there.
As companies far and wide began to shut their offices across the country, Easia Travel went out of its way to ensure it wouldn’t abandon its staff. In fact, along with our “Myanmar, we think of you” campaign, we managed to maintain an entire team of 20 staff who continue to work for Easia Travel Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand today.
However, though we continued to work with team members still based in Myanmar, we chose to freeze all our operations in Myanmar. Last July 2023, we led a complete study about the situation, asking ourselves an important question: can we resume our operations in Myanmar?
As there has been a recent uptick in requests for Myanmar, we thought it was an excellent time to provide an update. The following assessment of tourism in Myanmar is based on discussions we’ve had with various suppliers, competitors, and, most importantly, our team on the ground.
Safety and Security
The security situation in Myanmar remains tense. Despite receiving little coverage in international news, weekly attacks on remote villages and forced displacements are ongoing.
While destinations such as Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake, and Mandalay may appear safe for travel, the situation is initially deceptive. There have been reports of smaller-scale attacks and bombings between resistance fighters and the government. The case remains unstable enough to have a curfew from midnight to 4 a.m.
Because most countries advise against travel to Myanmar, no assistance is provided to travelers in case of emergency, which means tourists travel at their own risk without guaranteeing their safety. If Easia Travel were to start offering trips to Myanmar again, questions of liability would inevitably arise.
The economic situation
Prices have significantly increased compared to 2019 and are, on average, roughly three times higher. Because of international sanctions, the country’s banking system is functioning less effectively than four years ago.
This has led the currency market to become quite unstable. The gap between the official exchange and black market rates is widening today. It has even become challenging to exchange dollars for Myanmar Kyats on the black market or even to be able to find the U.S. currency in the first place.
Additionally, oil prices have also tripled, leading to several repercussions.
Transportation, hotels, and restaurants
As a result of the high cost of fuel, transportation rates have increased, with prices almost three times as high as they once were. International and domestic flights are still limited and do not operate daily. At the same time, cancellations and delays occur frequently, making it very difficult to stick to a strict itinerary.
As for hotels, many are still closed, and occupancy rates are meager for those still open. Finding hotels that meet our standards has become difficult, if not impossible. The best properties are few and far between and, in many cases, operate on generators as they face an increasingly challenging economic situation.
Overall, Myanmar has become a significantly more expensive destination, with a decrease in quality and reliability. Prices in restaurants, for example, have increased by 50%. Generally speaking, services are no longer comparable to what we’d gotten accustomed to before the pandemic, and any traveler planning to visit should adjust their expectations accordingly.
The current state of tourism in Myanmar
Markets such as the U.K., US, Germany, and France, sensitive to foreign affairs, are hesitant about traveling to Myanmar. On the other hand, markets like Italy, Spain, and Russia are more lenient, but bookings are scarce. Asian markets – Thailand and China in particular – currently have the most substantial presence in Myanmar.
The military’s hold on power will unlikely change in the coming years. The state of affairs and political climate is reminiscent of the situation in the early 2000s: corruption is rising, drug trafficking is increasing, unemployment rates are high, and the population is desperate.
Even though we would love to propose Myanmar to all our clients again, for all the reasons listed above, Thuy Hoa, Vu Huy, and I will not consider rerunning tours in Myanmar for now.
We will lead another study in January 2024 to see how the situation has evolved and whether our most essential criteria can be met: can we guarantee the safety and security of travelers? So far, in 2023, the answer is a resounding “no.”
In these uncertain times, the safety of our travelers remains our top priority. As a Destination Management Company dedicated to providing unforgettable experiences in Southeast Asia, we understand the importance of ensuring our clients’ well-being.
Regrettably, like any other DMC, we find ourselves facing the challenging reality that, at the moment, it is impossible for us to guarantee travelers’ safety on the spot. We will continue to monitor the situation in Myanmar closely and hope for a brighter and safer future, where we can once again offer the enchanting beauty of this country to our valued clients. Until then, your travelers’ safety is our utmost concern.