Visa on arrival hopes dashed

Burma will not be bringing back the visa-on-arrival scheme anytime in the near future because of a lack of improvement in tourism infrastructure, the tourism minister has stated.

The announcement dashes hopes of a reintroduction of the popular scheme that saw tourism numbers to the isolated country hit record highs last year, despite it only being active for four months.

A businessman who attended a recent meeting with Hotel and Tourism Minister Tint Hsan said it would instead be a step by step process.

“He [Tint Hsan] said it would be embarrassing if we open the visa on arrival when our country is not yet ready [to service tourists],” he said. “Last year, big crowds of tourists came in and it got out of control. We need to prepare a lot.”

Hotel and tourism business owners also reportedly urged the minister to appoint a ‘Visit Myanmar Year’ as it did in 1996, although that was roundly seen as a failure.

Burma remains Southeast Asia’s least travelled country, largely due to the controversy surrounding much of the tourism industry: rights groups claim that the money spent by tourists lines the pockets of the ruling regime, which has been known to use slave labour in the development of tourism infrastructure.

Numbers of visitors are rising however, with figures for last year showing a 33 percent increase on 2009. Still, however, the 300,000-odd that visited in 2010 pale ni comparison to the roughly 14 million that hit Thailand each year.

The visa scheme was halted in September last year after managing to attract 80,000 visitors in the four months of its existence. Observers speculated that it had been stopped to prevent journalists entering under the guise of tourists to cover the November elections.

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