Tourists visiting Myanmar from China are entering the country more and more in groups set up to keep money in the hands of their Chinese guides and travel agencies, creating a growing problem for locals working in the tourism and hospitality industry, sources say.
Traveling in so-called zero-budget tours, the Chinese visitors to Myanmar lodge and shop only at places already approved, and eat only at restaurants selected by their guides.
These restrictions are now leaving workers in Myanmar’s tourist industry with less and less to do, one worker named Myo Naing told RFA’s Myanmar Service in a recent interview.
“We don’t have jobs now, and we don’t make as much money as we did before,” he said.
“This is because if the tour organizers use us, it will be more expensive for them. They will have to pay us at least fifty dollars. And we won’t let them cheat their tour group or tell them things that aren’t true.”
“Also, because we are citizens of Myanmar and official tourist guides, we won’t let them get away with doing anything untoward,” he said.
“Most of the time, there’s no benefit for us,” agreed a boat keeper named Paw La. “Their guides prevent them from riding our boats, so things don’t work out well.”
Figures provided by the Myanmar Tourist Guides Association (MTGA) show that from January through September, nearly 500,000 Chinese tourists entered Myanmar, with about 400,000 of these coming in on zero-budget tours.
'A lot of misinformation'
China’s zero-budget tour groups meanwhile shun local guides for badly informed Chinese tour-group leaders who convey mistaken information about what their groups are seeing, said another local source named Tin Tun.
“If they don’t use licensed, professional tour guides, the problem that can arise is that they will get a lot of misinformation,” Tin Tun said. “Even though they are looking at the Irrawaddy River, they may be told it is the Inlay Lake.”
Chinese tourists visiting Myanmar travel mainly to the country’s central Mandalay region, where they typically avoid attractions that charge an entrance fee, sources say.
One of those that don’t is the Mahagandhayon Monastery in Amarapura, where Chinese tourists—most of them on zero-budget tours—can watch for free as Buddhist monks stand in lines to receive their daily alms, and where tourists have sometimes disturbed the peace by getting into fights.
“I don’t want them to send all their tourists here to Mahagandhayon,” Ashin Thadamma, one of the monastery’s monks, told RFA. “They don’t come to this place because they revere it.”
“I don’t want them to think only about their business, but to consider the convenience of the monks and whether things go well at the monastery. When they think only about the money they can make, the monastery loses its tranquility,” he said.
Meanwhile, gifts and other items bought by Chinese tourists in Myanmar are often purchased through an app on the Chinese social media platform WeChat, costing Myanmar additional losses in tax revenue, sources say.
“They’re supposed to spend their money here, but if they just put it in their own pockets, it’s not good for the image of the Chinese nationals who are our guests,” Myanmar hospitality worker Naing Lin Tun said.
“And if it’s going to affect the income of the businesses in our country, it’s not good for us either,” he said.
Myanmar’s Ministry of Tourism does not yet appear to view the zero-budget tours as a major problem, as all group members are required to pay a U.S. $50 visa fee each to enter the country, sources say, adding that though the Ministry promises action to address income loss and tourists’ bad behavior, nothing much gets done.
Reported by Khaymani Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Than Than Win. Written in English by Richard Finney.