Foreign tourists are flocking in. But !

  • Khin Maung Myint

I had written two articles in the GNLM under the same title before. I’m using the same title over and over again not because I cannot think of other titles, but I intent it to be a feature series, where I can highlight the adverse consequences of tourism. Saying thus, I may sound like a pessimistic person with negative attitude, which I’m definitely not. Regular readers of my articles may have noticed that most of my articles covered a variety of fields where reforms are needed.
I agree that tourism generates much incomes and much needed foreign currencies for the country. It also creates jobs and increases the incomes of many individuals who are directly or indirectly related to that business. In fact tourism is more than just a business, it’s an industry—a smokeless industry. It is metaphorized as a smokeless industry because though it is a provider of services, it generates large incomes that are comparable to the industries that depends on smoke-emitting machineries.
It is universally accepted that there are always pros and cons or advantages and disadvantages or upsides and downsides, related to everything, and the tourism industry is no exception. Though it may generate much incomes, create jobs and promotes businesses in the related sectors, there are many drawbacks or pitfalls. The most serious negative impacts, which are commonly seen in connection with the tourism industry are threats to the security, the culture and the civilization of the country, and also to the businesses of the locals.
Threats to the security are the most serious and dangerous of all. In their bid to attract more tourists, most countries relaxed their visa regulations and immigration checks at the ports of entry. Such relaxations led to the influx of foreign tourists. Most are genuine tourists who come to do what tourists normally do. Even among these genuine tourists are some rude and unruly persons who cause nuisances. On the other hand, there are the ingenuine tourists among whom are criminals, fugitives, terrorists, drug users/traffickers, human traffickers, swindlers, scammers and even paedophiles. Some countries in the region have their reputations tarnished by being designated as sex tourism destination for tourists. The latter categories pose threats to the security and undermine the law and order of the host country.
As I’m alternately living in Myanmar and Thailand now-a-days, I have been witnessing the adverse consequences that Thailand have to bear due to the tourism trade. Some of those adverse consequences have started to be felt in Myanmar too. Cases of ATM scamming committed by foreigners a few years back, breach of security at the new air port terminal in Yangon recently, spates of explosions of homemade bombs are harbingers of the adverse impacts of the blooming tourism trade. The most disturbing is the recent news of a foreign drug trafficking gang, comprising of Taiwanese and Hong Kong citizens apprehended in Yangon. These incidents undermined our country’s security. Severe actions, including death sentences should be considered for such cases.
Today, the international tourist arrivals are on the rise in our country. Some extremists from within and without are profusely promulgating false and fabricated news on the media. There were also open threats on the social media mentioning some of our leaders on the hit list by a certain terrorist group. These should not be taken lightly. In such a scenario, our country could become a target of the terrorists from abroad posing as tourists. I’m sure the authorities know better than I do, and are taking necessary precautions. As the security is more important than anything else, it shouldn’t be compromised for the sake of tourism.
Then, there are the undesirable impacts on our culture and religion. The incidents of foreign tourists wearing footwear on the Shwedagon Pagoda and the unplugging of the amplifier at Mandalay, by tourists, are just the beginnings. The most insulting to the religion are the inappropriate pre-wedding photos purported to be shot on locations at Pagan that went viral on the social media. Thailand have been facing such disregards to their culture and religion for quite sometimes. In my opinion, Thailand had tolerated such behaviours for long until they are out of control. Now they have to issue warnings and regulations, especially intended for those undisciplined tourists from a populous country who are arriving in droves almost everyday. These people are becoming nuisances to other tourists too. In Thailand I usually shun hotels and restaurants where most of them patronized.
From the business point of view, tourism may be attractive for those who are in that business and other related businesses, such as the hoteliers, restaurateurs, hospital operators, other retailers and of course the governments stand to gain from the revenues generated by the tourism industry. However, the downsides are the infiltrations of the businesses of the locals’. The business people from the most populous country in the world have elbowed their ways into the lucrative Thai businesses, ranging from tour services, setting up brokerages for exporting of sea foods, fruits and flowers, and other food stuffs back to their country. Such activities are undercutting the local businesses and putting them out of business. Some have even ventured into the prostitution, massage parlors, bars and karaoke businesses, most of which are illegal.
Lately the Thai authorities had closed down a tour company, which is operating with a large fleet of 2000 tour buses, whose majority of the shares are in the hands of the businesspersons from that most populous country. That company targeted the tourists from that country by offering low budget services and have managed to monopolize that market. That situation deprived other local operators, chances to get a share of the lucrative tourism market that the tourists from that country provide. The latest step taken by the Thai authorities is to carefully vet the hundreds of thousands of medical tourists from that country, who are coming for medical checkups or treatments. There must be sound reasons for the Thai authorities to take such drastic actions.
Today, there are quite a sizeable number of foreigners working in the construction sector of our country with tourist visas, which is illegal. Some had even infiltrated into the local businesses. One such example is the rapid popping up of chain stores, where every commodity is priced at 5000 Kyats. Many of the land plots and real estate properties are also in the hands of some foreigners, purchased in our citizens’ names. There may be many more sectors where they are involved, which we cannot know because some foreigners used our citizens as fronts to cover their illegal activities. As we are now encountering some similar cases of unscrupulous business operations, though not yet on a large scale as in Thailand, we should be cautious in promoting tourism.
If the tourism sector is left unchecked, we are bound to be in the same dire situations that Thailand is now facing. My suggestion to the authorities and the business persons in the tourist industry is: “Please do not compromise the security, cultural values, religion, businesses of our citizens and the stability of the country just to acquire more tourist arrivals”. Though they may generate much incomes and create more job opportunities, the price we will have to pay is too much — a lesson learned from the experiences of Thailand.

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