Tour operators 'overwhelmed' by interest in Burma

4th March 2012

An upsurge of interest from travellers wanting to visit Burma this year, is piling the pressure on tour operators to provide more trips

After a 15-year tourism boycott, Burma is officially back on the world-tourism radar. In fact, the country was named by Wanderlust as one of the hottest destinations for 2012 and won fourth place in 'Top Country' in our annual Travel Awards.

However, now travellers are beginning to head back to the country, tour operators are finding it difficult to keep up. Ashley Toft, managing director of tour operator Explore, commented that they have been 'overwhelmed' by the demand for their tours of Burma.

In response the company has added an extra 70 departures to their trips to the country to cope with demand.

Lyn Hughes, editor-in-chief of Wanderlust visited the country last year. She added: "I'm not surprised at the massive interest in going to Burma. Previously, many keen travellers, myself included, felt uncomfortable about going, given Suu Kyi's request for a tourism boycott. This inevitably led to a pent-up desire to visit.

"It's wonderful that we can now feel free to travel there, and Burma rewards the discerning traveller in spades. However, there is still a limited infrastructure, and it would be terrible if there was a rush to develop the country in an insensitive manner.

“I would strongly advise travellers to go off-season if possible – when they'll have the accommodation and sights to themselves, and prices are also much lower."

Facilities for tourism are relatively rudimentary and shortages of guides and hotel rooms, especially in the capital Yangon(Rangoon), have been reported. Recent changes include the country changing its official currency exchange rate to be in line with the previous unofficial rate, and banks being allowed to open exchange counters at airports and elsewhere.

Last year the National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party of activist Aung San Suu Kyi, softened its stance on tourism saying it would welcome visitors: “who are keen to promote the welfare of the common people and the conservation of the environment and to acquire an insight into the cultural, political and social life of the country.”

Ms Suu Kyi herself said in interviews that 'individual tourism' would be welcomed, provided that tourists avoid any activities and facilities that are directly associated with or fund the military government.

Although visitors are on the increase, Myanmar is still a small player on the south-east Asian tourism scene. The country welcomed 300,000 overseas visitors in 2011 (including approximately 5000 from the UK), compared to 19 million visitors to Thailand.

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