The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Junta beckons the jet set
- myanmar tourism drive

There is more to Myanmar than Aung San Suu Kyi. The military junta is inviting people over to see that.

Myanmar’s ruling military junta wants to open its “golden country” to the world’s eyes — with more and more package tours. The government has appointed a UK-based company, Red Apple Travel Ltd, as its brand ambassador to promote the country as a pretty picture. The message: if it had a troubled political past, it is buried deep — never mind Suu Kyi and world opinion.

“Myanmar was closed to the world for decades. But things have changed,” says Suneet Goenka, joint managing director of Red Apple, who is focusing on India, particularly West Bengal, because of its ties with “Burma”, to put the country on the world tourist map. “We were appointed by the Myanmar government two months ago as its agent,” he adds.

A tie-up with Indian Airlines for a package tour has already been announced by the government. The military government — which had the reputation of making entry to the country and the stay there difficult for foreigners — has promised visas on arrival.

Myanmar, with its white sand beaches, turquoise blue waters and coral seabeds, is not a tourist paradise, but a poet’s dream, says Goenka. Far superior to other South East Asian hubs like Thailand and Singapore, because it’s virgin, he says.

“Our job will be to lift the veil over Myanmar’s glorious heritage — its culture, architecture and its breathtaking locations,” he adds. Admitting that the junta had drawn the veil in the first place, he says the army administration has put in place the kind of infrastructure that would lure tourists from all over the world — lovely roads, shopping malls, availability of all international brands, cars, fashionwear, Kraft Cheese,” says Goenka.

The government has relaxed rules for entry of tourists to the country over the past few years, but with only about 2 lakh foreigners visiting last year, it wants more. “The country wants more revenue, more trade to develop. Tourism will be the first step,” says Goenka.

His agency will take tourists to Yangon, the capital, Ngapali, a seaside heaven in south Myanmar, Mandalay, the former capital, and Bagan, of the thousand and more pagodas. “We will introduce the tourists to Burmese food. Tourists will love the seafood and the unique use of tea leaves, nuts and ginger in the local food,” he adds. But the government has insisted that there will be no sex tourism, as in the other South East Asian countries. “We want a clean, healthy image, a place where people can go for family holidays.”

Now, Red Apple’s special task is to educate the future tourists and help them get over their apprehensions. “Myanmar is like any other country,” says Goenka, even offering a justification for military rule. “It’s for the best that there’s no democracy there. The country has flourished under the military regime,” he says.

He ends with one caution to the tourists, though. “It’s best if the tourists don’t get into political stuff. We would also advise them not to want to meet Suu Kyi.” Never mind if she remains Myanmar’s biggest tourist attraction.

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