Myanmar to Join ASEAN Tourism Forum in Vientiane Amidst Ongoing Civil War

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Myanmar to Join ASEAN Tourism Forum in Vientiane Amidst Ongoing Civil War
Myanmar tourists visit Bagan, an ancient city in central Myanmar. (Photo: Nikkei Asia)

Amidst an ongoing civil war between the military government and its civil opposition, Myanmar is pushing ahead with efforts to revitalize its tourism sector in 2024, and it plans to start on 22-27 January by showcasing its potential at the upcoming ASEAN Tourism Forum in Vientiane, Laos.

A total of four tourism companies will represent Myanmar at the event, which serves as a platform for ASEAN countries to exhibit their tour packages, fostering mutual promotion and extending invitations to global tourists. Travel agencies from the United States and Europe are also expected to attend, according to U Naung Naung Han, chair of the Myanmar Tourism Entrepreneurs Association.

However, the ambitious push for tourism comes with significant hurdles, primarily stemming from the persistent civil unrest within the nation. Htet Arkar Kyaw, a Myanmar journalist based in Mae Sot, Thailand, underscored the challenges Myanmar faces.

“Many countries, including [the] US, UK, [and] Australia, have imposed restrictions on their citizens traveling to Myanmar,” noted Htet Arkar Kyaw. 

The United States’ Bureau of Consular Affairs, Department of State, explicitly stated not to travel to Burma (Myanmar) due to civil unrest and armed conflict. And to exercise increased caution due to wrongful detentions and areas with landmines and unexploded ordnance.

While the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office advised against all travel to the east and northern central regions and all but essential travel for the southern Rakhine state.

Although the conflict is more heavily concentrated in certain areas of the country and away from popular tourist destinations such as Yangon or Mandalay, the overarching safety concerns persist.

“Even big cities like Yangon and Mandalay are not completely safe. So, tourism will still be difficult for Myanmar. The military junta knows this well,” Htet Arkar Kyaw said.

As Myanmar seeks to promote itself as a desirable destination, the unresolved conflicts cast a shadow over the nation’s tourism aspirations. While the military leadership attempts to use tourism as a means of legitimacy, the ongoing conflicts underscore the complex and precarious situation, making Myanmar a challenging proposition for potential travelers.