Cablegate: Burma's Tourist Sector: Lies, Damn Lies, And
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS RANGOON 000165
STATE FOR EAP/BCLTV, EB, CA
COMMERCE FOR ITA JEAN KELLY
TREASURY FOR OASIA JEFF NEIL
USPACOM FOR FPA
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EIND CASC ECON BM
SUBJECT: BURMA'S TOURIST SECTOR: LIES, DAMN LIES, AND
1. (SBU) Summary: Can there really have been 500,000 foreign
tourists, including 15,000 Americans, in Burma last year?
Despite the GOB's triumphant claims, we think not. Evidence
from the local tourism industry, the Embassy's Consular
Section, and a measure of plain common sense, suggest a much
smaller number of U.S. tourists. End summary.
Americans Flocking to Burma?
2. (U) The Burmese Ministry of Hotels and Tourism (MOHT)
recently trumpeted a victory for the 2002 tourist season.
The country, so the Ministry claimed, finally achieved the
long sought after goal of 500,000 foreign visitors. Because
of severe shortages of flight capacity, and the very limited
tourist season, we are dubious of the overall numbers.
However, even if we take them at face value they are not as
impressive as they initially seem. According to MOHT
accounts, there were 270,000 entries by travelers from China,
Thailand, Laos, and India who crossed the border by land for
a day or two. Of the remaining 230,000 visitors, 218,000
came by air from other Asian countries (including 23,000 from
Taiwan and 21,000 from Japan).
3. (U) The Ministry also took much pleasure in announcing an
alleged increase in U.S. visitors to Burma. One of the
regime's newspapers, The Myanmar Times, reported,
"Surprisingly give (sic) the U.S. Government's harsh stance
on Myanmar; it was American tourists who visited most
frequently from the western nations" (about 14,500 entries in
2002 according to the MOHT). Though this number is still
less than 3 percent of all purported visitors to Burma, it
would indicate a sharp increase in U.S. tourism to Burma over
the last three years.
4. (SBU) Though we have no way to conclusively verify or
disprove the MOHT's claims, we are very skeptical. Tourism
from Europe may have increased, due to expanded flight
capacity in 2002 from Italy and Austria. However, tourism
industry sources here say that the Burmese government has
been known to inflate the number of western tourist entries
for reasons of national pride and in order to bolster claims
of respectability. Another possibility is that the MOHT
statistics were taken wholesale from the Immigration Service
with no effort to break them down by the visitors' status or
length of stay. Therefore U.S. passport holders who are
long-term residents of Burma would be counted as one
"visitor" each time they re-entered the country.
5. (SBU) The Embassy's consular statistics tend to bear out
these assumptions. Only a couple of hundred U.S. citizens
registered at the Embassy in 2002 (a small percentage of the
alleged 14,500 at a time when U.S. travelers are eager to
register when they travel abroad). In 2002 there was only a
single death of a U.S. citizen tourist, no arrests of U.S.
tourists, about 20 welfare/whereabouts cases involving
short-term U.S. visitors, and only four U.S. tourists seeking
a replacement passport. If the 14,500 number were accurate,
these low consular data would make Burma a statistical
anomaly in the consular world.
How Many Then?
6. (SBU) The accurate number of U.S. tourists, and overall
visitors to Burma, is impossible to know. For evacuation
purposes, the Embassy recently made a very generous estimate
of 10,000 U.S. tourists in Burma during 2002. Anecdotal
evidence from hoteliers and travel agents in Rangoon suggests
an even lower figure of around 7,000 or 8,000. Whatever the
true number of tourists, it is even less important than the
small number the GOB claims. In any case, the plain fact is
that U.S. tourism contributes very little to the Burmese