CHIANG MAI, Thailand – Armin Schoch, formerly of Diethelm Travel and now of Impulse Travel, talked recently as a guest speaker at the March meeting of Skal International Chiang Mai & North Thailand about the conditions in Burma today, noting that the country still had a ways to go in terms of infrastructure development, as well as resolving political conflicts such as the Buddhist – Muslim sectarian violence that has recently erupted.
Armin, who operated tours in Burma during 1994-95, noted the big changes, including the removal of the requirements for exchanging US$200 into FEC currency and for using the currency that is just for tourists. Additional flights and relaxed visa restrictions are among the other changes. However, he observed that there were still many things that needed to be done, including the redrafting of the Foreign Investment Law, as well as new tax and banking laws; he noted that import/export regulations were being relaxed.
According to Armin, the main issue with travel and tourism in Burma is the lack of facilities, noting that if someone wanted to stay in a five-star hotel or take a special cruise, then advance booking of at least a year was required. Classic destinations such as Pegu are booked to overcapacity. He said, “I think we will need to wait 3-4 years to tell how the problems will be addressed and how the government will work with the army. We need to wait for the dust to settle and get a more normal situation to see where and what you can get before moving in.”
Armin felt that the opening of Burma would be beneficial to northern Thailand as land borders open and more direct flights between Chiang Mai and Burma are added. He concluded on a note of concern about the increasing disparity between rich and poor in Burma.