Story and pictures by Andrew J Wood

Ananda Temple BAGAN

Does tourism promotion have any role in resolving complex religious, political, socio-economic challenges such as currently being experienced by the Rohingya people and the Myanmar authorities?

Can tourism provide solutions for the long term settlement of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees crossing over the border of Myanmar into Bangladesh?

I believe not. Also in regard to media coverage, I believe that all travel media (as opposed to mass media) promotes tourism which provides a sustainable, trickle down stream of revenue to the people, particularly the poor.

Does the travel media community want to restrict their support of this revenue source?

Thousands still flock to the Schwedagon Pagoda even at night

My answer is NO, I want to support and enhance it. Of course I am concerned that many have been displaced and I hope the situation will improve soon. I equally believe that by not supporting tourism and the revenue it provides, is not the answer.

Bagan’s ancient landscape

Safety for tourists in Myanmar is not affected as the refugee crisis is in a remote area near the Bangladesh border, which has always been off-limits to tourists.

Puppets for sale at a local market near the Ananda Temple in Bagan

Visiting Myanmar is the right thing to do as it benefits people all around the country from any race or religion.

In many countries we have similar issues via a vis tensions between different religious groups, usually in border areas. I firmly believe that tourism has no part to play in resolving them. Tourists are generally discouraged from venturing into these areas. However that does not stop tourists enjoying wonderful holidays. To resolve these issues will take a political solution.

I have visited Myanmar on numerous occasions. Recently I visited twice; in August and October this year.

The spectacular Golden Rock in MON State

My visit in August was a purely personal visit with a group of ten Thai friends. The group was mainly interested, over the 3 days of the visit, in making merit; eating and travelling to the famed Golden Rock at Mount Kyaiktiyo (Kyite Htee Yoe). One of three most important religious sites in Myanmar.

My visit in October was to review what is happening in Myanmar with regard to tourism. I spent a week traveling the country under the guidance of Myanmar Tourism Marketing (MTM).

The Phaung Daw Oo procession on Inle Lake

The highlight of the tour was our visit to Inle Lake to watch the magnificent Phaung Daw Oo festival and the one-legged boat races.

Thousands of tourists and locals throng to watch the races

One-legged boat teams

Throughout my last two visits, we experienced only happy warm smiles and wonderful welcomes. At no point was security ever an issue. Life was very much carrying-on as normal.

Fishermen on Inle Lake pose for the photographers

Myanmar is moving into its high season period and it is frankly a great time to visit the country. I would strongly recommend that you do so.

I’m very comfortable as a member of the international travelling community to continue to visit Myanmar and to provide the economy with tourism revenue as well as broaden my own travel experiences. As to the question of the moral dilemma (to support Myanmar’s tourism), my answer is quite simple – yes.

About the author

English born Andrew J Wood, is a freelance travel writer and for most of his career a professional hotelier. Andrew has over 35 years of hospitality and travel experience. He is a Skal member and director of WDA Travel Co. Ltd and its subsidiary, Thailand by Design (tours/travel/MICE). He is a hotel graduate of Napier University, Edinburgh. Andrew is also a former member of the Executive Committee of Skal International (SI), National President SI THAILAND, Club President of SI BANGKOK and is currently SI Asia Area a.VP Southeast Asia, and Director of Public Relations, Skal International Bangkok. He is a regular guest lecturer at various Universities in Thailand including Assumption University’s Hospitality School and the Japan Hotel School in Tokyo.