Tourism to Burma has slumped following last month’s cyclone, causing airlines to cancel services, holiday hotels to close and travel companies to lay off staff.
Two private airlines have suspended services between Burma and Thailand. Apart from suspending its Rangoon-Bangkok flights for three months, Air Bagan, owned by Burmese business tycoon Tay Za, has dropped some of its domestic flights and sacked 24 employees. Air Mandalay has suspended its weekly flights between Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, and Rangoon.
Trishaws sit unused on an empty Chaungtha beach in the Irrawaddy Delta. Chaungtha beach is know as a popular tourist spot for both Burmese residents and foreign visitors, but since cyclone Nargis, there have been no holiday makers at all causing the entire village to suffer.
The Htoo Trading company, also owned by Tay Za, has closed two of its hotels in the beach resorts of Ngapali and Ngwe Saung until September. The hotels employ more than 400 people.
Many small hotels and guesthouses also face closure, and tour operators and guides are struggling for business. “I do not know what I am going to do if tourists don’t come to Burma anymore,” said one Rangoon tour guide.
Another tour guide said he had been retrenched and was now helping to distribute aid to cyclone survivors.
A Bangkok-based tour operator, Vega Travel, estimated that tourism to Burma had dropped 60 percent following the cyclone.
A Vega Travel employee said visa restrictions applied by the Burmese authorities after the cyclone were responsible for much of the tourism drop. “It is very hard now to get a tourist visa for Burma,” the staffer said.
Even in normal times, Burma’s tourism sector is very small compared to neighboring countries. According to Pacific Asia Travel Association statistics, 240,000 international travelers visited Burma last year, compared to 14 million attracted by Thailand.