- Today’s event is to mark the World Tourism Day, which has been organized by members of the World Tourism Organization every year on 27 September since 40 years ago. I attended the event at the Myanmar International Convention Centre-II last year. However, this year the event is being held online all over the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The global tourism industry has been recognized as a sustainable business. According to the 2019 data of the WTO, the tourism industry has contributed 7 per cent of international trade and is creating job opportunities for 1 out of 10 people in the world. It is also a major source of employment for millions of people in developing countries, especially for women, youths, and rural communities.
- The theme for World Tourism Day 2020 is ‘Tourism and Rural Development’. It is in conformity with the consistent efforts of our Union Government for economic development, equality and establishment of a modern and prosperous Democratic Federal Republic. The theme also corresponds to the action plans ‘to implement a comprehensive package of reforms focused on achieving a sustainable expansion of the tourism sector in ways that contribute to economic development and the socio-cultural life of our people’, and ‘to develop and protect innovative and cultural heritage promotion businesses such as cultural and eco-tourism and related value-added services industries’.
- Suspensions of vacation packages, inbound trips, commercial passenger flights and trips to usual tourist destinations amid control measures of COVID-19 have wreaked havoc on the global tourism industry. The WTO estimates that even if the restrictions on tourism sector are relaxed for the tourists in early December, the reports said that the number of international tourists might decrease by 78 per cent this year.
- Our country could contain the first wave of the pandemic due to control measures on travels and gatherings in April 2020. Later we allowed factories, industries, public transports, markets, restaurants and schools to reopen in line with the guidelines of the Ministry of Health and Sports and the practice of physical distancing. However, measures to control the second wave of COVID-19 by preventing non-essential travels have once again caused severe impacts on the tour agencies which were preparing for the resumption of local trips.
- The COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan to recover from the negative impact of the pandemic includes the tourism relief plan. Under the CERP, 100 billion kyats will be given out as one-year loans with 1 per cent interest rate to the CMP garment factories and SME businesses; the hotels and tourism businesses will get one-year exemption for licence fee and suspension of income tax and commercial tax; the rental fee for stateowned hotels has been reduced by 50 per cent for a specific period. Under the Cash for Training programme, online basic and advanced courses on tourism business are being conducted as well as mentoring classes of not more than 5 persons to generate income for the jobless employees from this industry and related businesses of slow-moving vehicles, roadside vendors, souvenir sellers and handicraft producers.
- As no one can estimate the end of COVID-19, it is necessary to resume the businesses under preventive measures against the pandemic for the socio-economic survival of the people. Experts have estimated tourists would enter only in 2021, so it would be necessary for us to begin with domestic tours. In this situation, it is required to strictly follow the guidelines of the Ministry of Health and Sports to prevent one more surge of the pandemic. Both employees from this industry and visitors need to make arrangements and learn the guidelines.
- Tourism experts estimate that visitors would change their choice and opt for new destinations which are closer to the natural environment with free travel styles, rather than more popular destinations, in the post-COVID-19 period. In addition to the directives of the Union Government to develop new safe destinations across the country, local authorities, businesspersons and people need to form working groups to conserve these areas. The information must be given to the public to help their choice for appropriate hotels and tourism businesses which comply with the guidelines of COVID-19 measures. Their COVID-19 Safe Service must be recognized. Only if safe services could be given by these preparations, Myanmar will be ready for competing with other countries to attract foreign visitors when international tourism resumes.
- Although the World Tourism Day event for this year had to be conducted online, I conclude this speech by making a wish that we would be able to resume international tourism next year and hope to meet all the attendees here again at the forthcoming World Tourism Day next year.
Let me extend my good wishes and Metta to all the distinguished participants for their good health and well-being.