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60th Anniversary of Indonesia~Myanmar

Industry applauds visa on arrival ‘breakthrough’

By Zaw Win Than
(Volume 26, No. 522)

TOURISM operators have hailed the surprise introduction of visa on arrival facilities last week as a “breakthrough” for the industry and said it was likely to boost tourist arrivals.

As of May 1, foreign visitors from any country can apply for a visa on arrival when passing through Yangon and Mandalay international airports without having to make any prior arrangements with travel agencies.

“We are hoping that this smart move will result in a tremendous increase in tourist arrivals and a change of image for Myanmar as well,” said U Phyo Wai Yar Zar, the vice chairman of industry body the Myanmar Marketing Committee (MMC).

“It is a good sign that the government has realised that tourism is one of the important levers for the economic development of the country and also a powerful tool for poverty alleviation. But we must make sure that the benefits go down to the grassroots – the postcard sellers and the horse cart drivers too,” said U Hpone Thant, a former secretary of the Union of Myanmar Travel Association.

U Hla Aye, the managing director of Shan Yoma Travels and Tours, said he “warmly welcomed” the new system.

“Of course this is a first in the history of Myanmar tourism and I’m sure it will make things much more convenient for visitors as well as for tour operators,” U Hla Aye said.

“I would just like to say that it is a positive move from the Myanmar authorities concerned. We welcome this kind of change,” said U Nyi Nyi, sales and marketing manager at Peace House Travels and Tours.

Several types of visas are available, including a 28-day tourist visa (US$30, non-extendable), a 70-day business visa ($40, extendable), 28-day social visa ($40, extendable) and 24-hour transit visa ($18).

Visitors who overstay the 28-day limit on the tourist visa will be required to pay $3 for each day they spend in the country after their visa expires.

At a meeting on April 30, the Ministry of Home Affairs gave the immigration department the green light to begin the service the following day.

“As a result of a meeting with the Ministry of Home Affairs, we have changed some policies on issuing visa on arrival and then we started this new system from May 1 at both Yangon and Mandalay international airports,” a spokesperson from the Department of Immigration and National Registration, under the Ministry of Immigration and Population, said.

A spokesperson from Yangon International Airport’s Immigration Department said four visitors from the Philippines were granted visas on arrival on May 1. An additional 167 foreign visitors were granted visas on arrival over the next five days, he added.

Previously, the vast majority of tourists and all business travellers had to apply in advance for a visa at foreign embassies.
The suddenness of the announcement appeared to catch some in the tourism industry off guard and there were reports last week of travellers being unable to check in for flights to Myanmar because they did not have a visa.

However, a spokesperson from Silk Air’s office in Yangon said the airline was aware of the new system and had informed its head office. The visa on arrival rules and regulations would soon be uploaded to the airline’s website, spokesperson Daw Phyu Phyu Hlaing said.

“It is possible to check-in at Silk Air’s counter in Singapore without having a Myanmar visa,” she confirmed.

A spokesperson from the Thai Airways International office in Yangon also said foreign visitors could check in for the airline’s Myanmar-bound flights without a Myanmar visa.

The Department of Immigration official said visitors from any country who hold an ordinary passport are eligible for a visa on arrival.

“Foreign visitors must bring a valid return ticket, proof of a booking at a hotel, motel or guesthouse, two recent passport photos that are not older than six months and are four centimetres by 6cm and must sign a form stating they will abide by all immigration laws,” said the spokesperson.

Those who intend to stay with friends or relatives need to write the address where they will be residing while in Myanmar.

Children under seven years of age accompanied by a parent are exempted from the visa fee. Visitors are not allowed to visit restricted areas in Myanmar and must have a minimum of US$300 if they are an individual traveller and $600 if travelling in a family. Passports must also be valid for a minimum of six months after the date of arrival in Myanmar.