Myanmar: Hit by Unrest and Off Tourist Beaten Track

MADRID ~ Myanmar, formerly known as Burma and currently the scene of mass protests against the country’s repressive military junta, is one of the least visited states in Asia, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said this week.

Just 264,000 foreigners visited the country last year, although that represented a 13.5 percent rise on 2005, a spokesman for the Madrid-based UN body which represents 150 nations said.

Myanmar, which has been ruled by the military since 1962, is not a member of the UNWTO and the spokesman declined to comment on the current uncertainty in the country where this week tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters have marched in the streets.

In Asia only the tiny mountainous kingdom of Bhutan, with 17,000 visitors, and Bangladesh, with 200,000, received fewer tourists in 2006, according to UNWTO figures.

By comparison, Myanmar’s neighbor Thailand received 13.88 million foreign visitors last year.

The majority of tourists to Myanmar, 60.8 percent, came from the Asia-Pacific region, with Thailand contributing 27,199 visitors last year, the most of any country.

China accounted for 19,596 visitors, followed by Japan with 19,584 and Taiwan with 17,600.

The United States accounted for 16,598 visitors to Myanmar, France 15,295 followed by Germany with 13,689.

According to the London-based World Travel and Tourism Council, which groups major travel organizations, tourist-related activity in Myanmar is set to generate a US$1 billion this year for a 6.7 percent share of GDP.

The WTTC added that 1.349 million Burmese jobs, or 6.1 percent of the total, were dependent on the sector.

The organization forecast that tourism would see growth this year of 5.5 percent.

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