On July 26, The Myanmar Times quoted a certified correct translated statement by U Ohn Maung, Minister of Hotel and Tourism as saying that Myanmar will grant free visa allowances to Chinese, South Korean and Japanese nationals from August 1 onwards. The minister was speaking during an economic seminar organised earlier this month by the Thai embassy in Yangon and the Thai Business Association in Myanmar.
According to the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population, visitors from China, including those from Hong Kong and Macau, should apply for a visa on arrival (VOA), while those from Japan and South Korea will be granted visa exemptions from October 1 onwards. All are expected to possess $1,000 upon arrival.
The immigration department currently provides VOAs to tourists from China, Hong Kong and Macau through Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw international airports.
Meanwhile, visa exemptions are given to tourists from Japan and South Korea arriving by air, sea of land. However, they also have to show a return air ticket, which has caused difficulties for travelers intending to leave Myanmar through the land borders.
In addition, tourists from these three countries are permitted to stay for just 30 days in Myanmar, which is troublesome for those who want to stay longer.
The confusion has stakeholders in the tourism industry, including various government departments, concerned. Some also say the $1,000 cash requirement will deter visitors from coming to Myanmar even as the latest visa exemptions are meant to attract more arrivals.
“We understand from the immigration department that each tourist from these three countries must show $1,000 in cash before they are allowed into the country. How will a family of more than one produce $1,000 each? Moreover, international visitors mostly travel with credit cards instead of cash. So, we need to resolve this issue,” U Ohn Maung, Minister of Hotel and Tourism, said during a press conference on July 28.
All these issues and more will be discussed with policy makers at the meeting, said U Ohn Maung. “For example, the immigration department accepts only $50 in cash for the VOAs. So we will try to make payments via credit cards available by linking the airport with the local banks,” he said.
CB Bank has already met with the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population to discuss potential solutions for tourists who do not have $1,000 in cash upon arrival. “We are arranging for currency exchange facilities and card verification for tourists at the airport. We are in final discussions with the immigration department to set things up,” U Zayar Aung, general manager of Cards and Merchants services department at CB bank told The Myanmar Times.
The services provided will be free of charge for tourists. “When we offer free services, more tourists will come. This will encourage more banking-related activities between the banks and the hotels and other tourism businesses,” U Zayar Aung said.
The government is making efforts to draw tourists from Japan, China and South Korea, three of Asia’s largest and wealthiest economies, at a time when visitors from the west have dwindled.
The feedback so far has been positive. “Young Korean tourists are very interested in Myanmar,” Mr. Kim Nam Jin, country manager of Myanmar of Korean Air told The Myanmar Times.
“They are very happy to come to Myanmar without a visa. But if they have to display $1,000 in cash upon entry, it will be very difficult for them because most Korean tourists travel with credit cards,” he said.
“It is impossible for every person who comes to Myanmar to bring $1,000 in cash with them. So, the government should reconsider this requirement. So far, we are happy about the visa exemption and expect to fly more passengers to Myanmar,” he said.
Currently, Korean Air operates a daily direct flight between Seoul and Yangon once a day. On average, 270 passengers disembark in Yangon, while 170 passengers disembark in Seoul, Mr Kim said.
U Kyaw Swa Min, managing director of Grand Lotus Travel and Tours, the visa exemptions are good for drawing more tourists from those three countries. “But we need to do away with the $1,000 regulation as this is outdated and would delay the clearance process at the airport,” he added.
According to the Ministry of Hotel and Tourism, Myanmar received 1.72 million international visitors as at June 30 this year but these numbers have declined when compared with the same period in 2017.
This is because tourists from the US and Europe have declined by up to 50 percent. “We requested the government for visa exemptions for Americans and tourists from some European countries but the government decided that the exemptions would only be given to tourists from countries with which we have a good relationship,” he said.