Khiri Travel has restarted offering tours to Myanmar in a bid to save livelihoods destroyed by a lack of international tourists.
“Tourism is a force for good and that’s our mission. While there’s definitely an issue with a very repressive government, it doesn’t involve tourism or tourism locations,” said Khiri Travel CEO and founder, Willem Niemeijer, who visited the country recently.
He said while there are many areas that are dangerous to visit, the main tourist destinations of Yangon, Inle Lake, Mandalay, Bago, Ngapali Beach and Mergui Archipelago are safe.
“I understand that for a lot of tour operators this might be an issue, but we know that some people want to travel to Myanmar. As long as it’s reasonably safe, and it’s more than reasonably safe if you stay in the highlights, then it’s fine. Of course, there are places you shouldn’t be going and we know where they are,” Niemeijer added.
He said during his visit to Yangon and Inle Lake, he met with tour guides and other tourism-related businesses, whose livelihoods have been destroyed due to lack of tourists.
“They’ve had zero tourists since Covid – it’s unfair and heart-breaking. Boat drivers depend on it, guides depend on it, so do small businesses that have set up over the 10-plus years (like) bike rentals, home cooking on the lake, all of these things,” he said.
Niemeijer added that while concerns may be made about tourism funding the regime, Khiri only deals with locally-owned businesses, including hotels, transport and guides.
He remarked that most of the money goes to visas and domestic flights, however, it would be better “if 80 per cent of the money goes to the locals” while the government, which has no issues with money, receives 20 per cent instead.
He added that Khiri has teams on the ground who are able to monitor the situation constantly.
According to BDEX, in October 2022, the average monthly salary in Myanmar for companies with fewer than 15 employees was US$117.
“They don’t ask for a massive number of tourists, just a few to keep morale going. Our strategy is not asking for everyone to put Myanmar back on their programme – that’s unrealistic. But we need specialist tour operators to keep this in mind.”