Monday, September 25, 2017

Flu outbreak threatens tourist season

The beginning of the peak tourist season may be affected by the threat of H1N1 flu, as shown by the Mandalay government’s decision on Sunday to postpone the Taungbyone Nat (spirit medium) festival until after the threat passes.

Students wearing masks attend a medical exibition at the Tatmadaw Hall on July 29. Aung Myin Ye Zaw / The Myanmar TimesStudents wearing masks attend a medical exibition at the Tatmadaw Hall on July 29. Aung Myin Ye Zaw / The Myanmar Times

The domestic tourist season usually starts with the Taungbyone Nat festival, from July 30 - August 7, and lasts through April. The festival usually attracts about 800,000 visitors annually from throughout the country. Domestic tour operators say the strength of numbers during the festival greatly affects the rest of the season.

“We cannot calculate how [the postponement] will affect the tourist season. If the government cannot control the H1N1 virus, the percentage of domestic travellers will be decreased this year,” said U Myoe Gyi, former deputy chair of the Domestic Pilgrimage and Tour Operators Association.

Domestic tour operators said they will give refunds to customers who paid for trips to the Taungbyone Nat festival.

There are many traditional Myanmar festivals from August to November that attract many domestic and foreign tourists, and the H1N1 flu outbreak threatens them all, he said. A few of the most prominent ones include the Popa festival in September, the Thadingyut lighting festival on October 5 and the Tazaungdaing festival from November 3 to 5.

“I think tourists will avoid crowded areas because of H1N1, so we just have to wait to see what happens with the flu situation,” U Myoe Gyi said.

As of July 30, there were 187 suspected cases of H1N1, of which 51 tested positive, and 10 people had died of the disease in Myanmar.

According to the data, the mortality rate of those who were hospitalised is 5.49 percent.

Some foreign tourists are also cancelling trips, said the tour operators.

“Recently I got two cancellations for tours in August. Other countries are watching the flu situation in Myanmar and may issue travel warnings if the mortality rate increases. If so, it will affect the whole season,” said U Ye Tun Oo, managing director of Vivo Myanmar travel and destination management company.

If the flu is not brought under control by the time of the JATA Tourism Expo in Japan in September, Myanmar’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism and tour companies will lose money, he said.

“If the government can say it has H1N1 under control by the second week of August, the tourist season will be fine,” U Ye Tun Oo said.

“H1N1 has not spread throughout the country yet, just in some regions. The Ministry of Health and Sports will import medicine for H1N1 and the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism will carry out an information campaign for tourists, said U Ohn Maung, hotels and tourism minister.

Daw Su Su Tin, manager director of Exo travel company, said, “I haven’t received booking cancellations for peak season yet, but some tourists who are visiting Myanmar asked about the flu after we sent them information released by the Ministry of Health and Sports.”

They are carefully watching the information that embassies in Yangon release to their citizens about the H1N1 outbreak, she said.

Daw May Myat Mon Win, general manager of Chatrium Hotel, also said her hotel had not received any booking cancellations.

Cases of H1N1 have been found in Yangon, Bago, Ayeyarwady, Chin State, Mon State and Nay Pyi Taw, and H5N1 has been found in Tanintharyi and Yangon, according to the Ministry of Health and Sports.