Tour firms 'overwhelmed' by visitor interest in Burma
AUNG San Suu Kyi's softened stance on tourism to Burma has led to a flurry of interest in travelling to the country, tour operators have reported.
Demand for holidays to Burma has risen sharply since the National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party of Aung San Suu Kyi, softened its stance last year against tourism to the country.
Ashley Toft, managing director of Explore, said his company had been "overwhelmed" by inquiries in the past few months, and was adding an extra 70 dates for trips to the country.
Gloria Ward of the Ultimate Travel Company said the level of interest in Burma this year had been "phenomenal".
"It used to be a small part of what we did in Asia," she said. "Now we have one person who is doing almost nothing other than dealing with inquiries about Burma."
She confirmed that bookings had more than doubled in the past year, a rise she attributed to Ms Suu Kyi's call for "ethical" tourists to visit. "For a lot of people who were in two minds, that was the deciding factor," she said.
In May last year, the NLD announced it was relaxing its call for a tourism boycott of Burma, a shift in attitude that was first hinted at in August 2009.
Then Ms Suu Kyi herself said in interviews last year that "individual tourism" would be welcomed, and that visitors could benefit her country if they avoided facilities with close links to the military government.
Since then, several publications, including the Daily Telegraph Travel, have tipped Burma as one of the best places to go in 2012.
In recent weeks, there have been reports of a shortage of tour guides and hotel rooms in Rangoon (Yangon), where facilities for tourism are still rudimentary.
Burma welcomed just over 300,000 overseas visitors last year. By comparison, Thailand received 19 million foreign visitors.