Bomb fallout hits tourism sector

Hotel and tourism-reliant businesses have begun to feel the fallout from the bombings in Yangon and across the country last week, including one at Traders Hotel, while others in the private sector are concerned about lasting damage to tourism as the country approaches the high season.

With a dozen bombs found or exploded last week, several embassies have already issued travel warnings advising against travel to Myanmar as the government has alluded that some of the attacks were aimed at foreigners.

Parkroyal Hotel marketing manager Ma Michelle Win said her hotel has already experienced cancellations and would likely see more in coming weeks due to the high-profile bombing at Traders Hotel.

“We have experienced bombings [in Yangon] before, but not in a hotel. This is the first time in a hotel and we are quite concerned.

“We have attended emergency meetings about the impact on tourism and we have increased [the number of] security guards, checking all guests’ bags. The only thing hotels can do is to increase security,” she said. “Tourists [coming to Yangon] should insist that security guards are checking their bags and their rooms.”

Governor’s Residence sales coordinator Ma Shwe Sin also said there has been some cancellations at the hotel.

“We have had a group tour cancel,” she told The Myanmar Times. “We have had some cancellations from people who were supposed to come in December or even next year.”

But, perhaps the most heavily impacted business is the high-end Traders Hotel, where an American tourist was injured by a bomb blast October 14. The blast made international headlines and the hotel issued a statement online to allay fears over hotel safety.

Ministry of Hotels and Tourism director general U Aung Zaw Win said the explosions in hotels in Yangon and other towns were the result of weaknesses in CCTV security and hotel housekeeping.

Speaking at a televised press conference October 15, the director general said the focus of the ministry would be ensuring the safety of the 33 hotels in Yangon and other towns that will be linked to the SEA Games visitors in December.

U Aung Zaw Win said the ministry held concerns that the image of Myanmar’s tourism sector would be tarnished in the minds of foreign visitors and that increased hotel security vigilance would be seen across the country.

The bombings come on the cusp of Myanmar’s tourism high season, which also boasts several major festivals, as well as the SEA Games.

Myanmar Travel Association union secretary U Naung Naung Han said he believed the nation’s tourism industry would be tainted by the bombings.

“Due to the explosion other countries think Myanmar is not safe and secure so we will lose the kinds of opportunities that developed in the years when the country was viewed optimistically,” he said. “Tourists can change their plans and visit other countries they view as safer,” he said. “We need proper management to ease concerns about security or natural disasters when the incidents occur. That is very important,” he said.

U Phyo Wai Yaza, All Asia Exclusive Travel Company managing director, said that while other ASEAN countries experienced bombings, such as in Thailand’s volatile south or in Indonesia, Myanmar’s speedy and transparent government announcements on the situation would help to ease tourists’ worries.

“The important thing is how government and authorities handle and investigate [the bombings], raise security precautions and make transparent and timely announcements to the media,” he said.

The Myanmar Restaurant Association also held briefings for members, educating restaurateurs on correct procedures for bomb location and removal inside a dining environment.

“We don’t hold legal authority like the police so we have been educating members on what to do in a situation where there is a suspicious person in the restaurant,” U Nay Lin, vice chairman of the association, told The Myanmar Times.

The governments of Australia, Britain, France and the United States all issued travel alerts in the wake of the bombings, which killed two people and injured four others.

All travel alerts urged vigilance, but stopped short of advising against travel to the country.

Outside of Yangon, other tourism operators were reporting business as usual.

“We are not affected in any way,” said Ma Thin Sande, marketing manager with Air Mandalay. “The passengers are only worried about staying in Yangon hotels,” she said, adding that the airline had not seen a drop in reservations or increased cancellations.

An unattributed op-ed in the government-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper last Thursday aimed to dispel fears.

“All the hotel rooms have been booked. The airports have been busy with tourists flooding into the country which has just woke up from a nightmare to see a beautiful morning,” the op-ed read.

“The recent blasts suggested that the bombers targeted tourist spots, including hotels and a pagoda parking lot in Sagaing, a town with abundant temples, pagodas and tourist spots near Mandalay.”

The newspaper also issued a call from police for anyone with information about the bombings or named suspects to come forward to authorities. The tourism industry generated about US$956 million in the 2012-13 fiscal year, Ministry of Hotels and Tourism statistics showed.

Source: Myanmar Times

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