Monday, February 4, 2008

Myanmar tourism down

Source: Reuters
Feb 4, 2008 10:56 PM

Tourist arrivals in Myanmar almost halved in the last three months of 2007 after the military junta crushed popular monk-led protests, killing at least 31 people, a weekly journal reported.

The English-language Myanmar Times said the number of foreign visitors fell 24% in October, immediately after the crackdown, and were down 44% in the last quarter of the year from the same period of 2006.

"Tourist arrivals during the whole year fell by 8.8% in 2007 from a year ago," Deputy Tourism Minister Aye Myint Kyu, a brigadier-general, was quoted as saying in an article which gave no further details.

According to the government-run Central Statistical Organisation, 349,877 tourists came to the former Burma in 2006 and arrivals in the first eight months of 2007 showed a slight increase.

However, the suppression of the monk-led protests, including the secretly filmed shooting of a Japanese journalist on Sule Pagoda Road in Yangon, caused worldwide outrage and led to groups cancelling tours out of fear.

The junta blamed the foreign media and dissident reporters sneaking footage and pictures out via the Internet for causing the plunge in arrivals.

"Some foreigners attempted to tarnish the image of Myanmar by posting in the Web sites the photos of the protest walks," Aye Myint Kyu wrote recently in state-run newspapers under a widely known pseudonym.

"The photos and news of the incidents on the Sule Pagoda Road had a strong negative impact on the nation's tourism industry," he said of protests in central Yangon.

Hoteliers reported occupancy rates down by as much as 70% during the normal year-end high season and were forced to slash rates to attract visitors.

The monk-led protests in August and September were the biggest challenge to decades of military rule since a mass uprising in 1988.

The United Nations says at least 31 people were killed in the subsequent crackdown, in which the junta admits 2,927 people were arrested. Of those detained, 80 remain in prison, the junta says.

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