• Myanmar’s tourism dreams pierced by Rohingya crisis

    Ramesh Tiwari
    October 29, 2017
    Myanmar’s tourism dreams pierced by Rohingya crisis

    Myanmar (AFP) : Only a few years ago Beyonce and Jay-Z were posing for photos among Myanmar’s famed temples, heralding the former junta-run country’s rise as one of the hottest new tourist destinations on the map.

    But that dream is cracking as images of burnt villages and Muslim Rohingya fleeing army-led violence in western Rakhine shock the globe, sparking outrage over a staggering scale of human suffering that has festered along the border.

    Ever since the bloodshed broke out in late August, tourism operators have witnessed a cascade of cancellations, rippling fear through a nascent industry that was gearing up for its high season in October.

    “Almost all the trips scheduled for October and November have been cancelled due to instability in the country, because of the situation in Rakhine state,” said Tun Tun Naing from New Fantastic Asia Travels and Tour, an agency that leads trips to the pristine beaches and mist-shrouded lakes that dot the lush country.

    “Most groups in Japan, Australia and other Asian countries cited security reasons and some Europeans have clearly said they boycotted because of the humanitarian situation,” he told AFP.

    In Yangon, a bustling city known for its crumbling colonial architecture, some foreign tourists could still be seen circling the gilded Shwedagon Pagoda that looms over the former capital.

    But they admitted that the ongoing crisis is an awkward backdrop for their holiday.

    “It’s very sad to see what the country is becoming, our guide told us that Muslims were dangerous and that they were not Burmese,” said French tourist Christine, who declined to give her surname, of a crisis that has spiked religious tensions in the Buddhist majority country.

    Some distinguished guests are also keeping their distance, with Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, and his wife Camilla deciding to skip a stop in the former colony during an autumn tour of Asia.

    – One step forward, two back? –

    There are fears the refugee crisis could throw Myanmar’s fledgling tourism sector back to the dark days under military rule, when many travellers passed over the pariah state to avoid lining the pockets of generals who brutally suppressed human rights.

    All that had started to change after the army initiated a transition to partial democracy in 2011.

    The move saw Western sanctions lifted as foreign tourists flocked to landscapes unspoiled by the crowds and travel infrastructure that has mushroomed elsewhere in the region.

    The first half of 2017 kicked off well with a 22 percent increase in visitors compared to the previous year, according to figures from the Ministry of Tourism, which hopes to double the number of annual arrivals to 7.5 million by 2020.

    But at the end of August, western Rakhine state was in flames.

    Raids by mobs of poorly-armed Rohingya militants prompted a military backlash so brutal the UN says it likely amounts to ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority.

    More than half a million Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in two months, carrying testimony of killings, rape and arson at the hands of soldiers and Buddhist mobs.

    Their chilling stories, alongside photos of gaunt and weary refugees cramming into Bangladesh’s ramshackle refugee camps, have seized headlines around the globe and cast a pall over the young democracy’s rise.

    A few hours south of the conflict zone in Rakhine state lies Mrauk-U, an ancient capital and hallowed archaeological site.

    Two months into the crisis, locals say the site is empty of the tourists normally buzzing around its ruins.

    Oct. 29 2017

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      2017 in review -Top stories

      January 1 : New year nightclub attack leaves 39 dead in Istanbul
      January 20 : Republican billionaire Donald Trump sworn in as 45th US president
      January 23 : Syria peace talks begin in Kazakh capital Astana
      March 29 :United Kingdom officially launches the Brexit process
      April 4 :Syria launches chemical attack killing 90 people
      April 6 : US cruise missiles destroy Syrian air base
      April 9 : Bombings at two churches in Egypt kill dozens
      April 16 : Refugee death toll passes 1,000 in Mediterranean
      April 16 :Turkey says YES to presidential system
      May 6 :Emmanuel Macron elected French president defeating Marine Le Pen
      May 19 :Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani wins re-election
      May 22 : Terrorist attack kills 22 at Manchester concert
      June 5 : Gulf nations severe ties with Qatar
      June 7 :Suicide bombers attack Iranian parliament killing 13 people
      June 14 :London fire kills 71 in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower
      July 4 :North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s missile ambitions
      July 28 : Pakistan’s top court disqualifies Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office
      August 5 :US withdraws from Paris climate change pact
      August 17 :Storms cause record damage in Caribbean and southern United States
      August 25 :Muslim Rohingya start fleeing Rakhine state in Myanmar
      September 15 : NASA’s 13-year Saturn mission ends
      September 20 : Earthquake kills more than 200 in Mexico
      September 24 : Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel wins fourth term
      September 26 : Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women driving
      October 1 : Gunman opens fire on Las Vegas music festival killing 59 people
      October 14 : Massive bombing in Somalia’s capital Modadishu kill more than 500 people
      October 24 : China confirms the elevation of President Xi Jinping to the same status as the nation’s founder, Mao Zedong, and Deng Xiaoping, by enshrining ‘Xi Jinping thought’ in the party’s constitution at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China
      October 27 : Catalonia declares independence from Spain
      November 4 : S audi Arabia detains 11 princes, four ministers and ten former ministers in a corruption probe
      November 12 : Iran-Iraq magnitude 7.3 earthquake kills more than 500
      November 15 : Argentine navy submarine disappears with 44 crew on board
      November 21 : Robert Mugabe resigns as Zimbabwe’s president after 37 years in power. His former deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa will become president.
      November 22 : Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic convicted of genocide in Srebrenica during the 1990s Bosnian War
      November 24 : Gunmen kill hundreds at Sinai mosque in Egypt
      December 4 : Houthi militants assassinate Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh
      December 5 : Russia banned from 2018 Winter Olympics for state-sponsored doping
      December 6 : US President Donald Trump recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel
      December 17 : Price of one bitcoin reaches a new high of $19,783.06 dollars
      December 21 : Yemen’s cholera outbreak
      December 22 : Syria peace talks in Astana (compiled)

      Top ten most visited cities

      Between January and August 2017, destinations worldwide welcomed 901 million international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors), 56 million more than in the same period of 2016 .The top ten most visited cities are:
      CityVisitors
      HONG KONG26.6 million
      BANGKOK 21.2 million
      LONDON19.2 million
      SINGAPORE16.6 million
      MACAU15.4 million
      DUBAI14.9 million
      PARIS14.4 million
      NEW YORK12.7 million
      SHENZHEN12.6 million
      KUALA LUMPUR12.3 million

      Source: Euromonitor International

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