World

Myanmar's tourism severely hurt by Rohingya crisis

YANGON: Only a few years ago, Beyonce and Jay-Z were posing for photos among Myanmar's famed temples, heralding the former junta-run country's rise as one of the hottest new tourist destinations on the map.

But that dream is cracking as images of burnt villages and Muslim Rohingya fleeing army-led violence in western Rakhine shocked the globe, sparking outrage over a staggering scale of human suffering that has festered along the border.

Ever since the bloodshed broke out in late August, tourism operators have witnessed a cascade of cancellations, rippling fear through a nascent industry that was gearing up for its high season in October.

"Almost all the trips scheduled for October and November have been cancelled due to instability in the country, because of the situation in Rakhine state," said Mr Tun Tun Naing from New Fantastic Asia Travels and Tour, an agency that leads trips to the pristine beaches and mist-shrouded lakes that dot the lush country.

"Most groups in Japan, Australia and other Asian countries cited security reasons and some Europeans have said they boycotted because of the humanitarian situation," he said.

The first half of this year kicked off well with a 22 per cent increase in visitors compared to the previous year, according to figures from the Ministry of Tourism, which hopes to double the number of annual arrivals to 7.5 million by 2020. But at the end of August, western Rakhine state was in flames. Two months into the crisis, locals say the site is empty of the tourists normally buzzing around its ruins.

"All people who live on tourism are out of work now," guide Aung Soe Myint said. - AFP

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