Just shy of two decades since it was opened to foreigners, the Mergui Archipelago is set to become a tourist hotspot.
Located in the southernmost part of Myanmar, it comprises more than 800 islands and last year welcomed just 2612 tourists. Officials say this number will soar in the near future, when the virtually untouched wonder will be turned into the “new Phuket”.
“The region has a lot of potential to be a new tourism destination, as most of the islands are untouched and have coral reefs,” says Sai Kyaw Ohn, Myanmar’s Deputy Minister for Hotels and Tourism.
Original plans to redevelop the islands included the establishment of a $1.2 billion casino resort, but it’s now looking more likely that close to 30 hotels and resorts will take over the area in a bid to attract more tourists, specifically those interested in diving and eco-tourism as – due to its isolation – its seas are alive with flora and fauna. But it seems it’s the people they’re trying to entice who are begging the Myanmar Government to set and follow environmental guidelines.
“The projects will destroy the natural beauty and ways of life in the area if the authorities and developers do not take environmental aspects into consideration,” says Win Myo Thu, Chairman of EcoDev, Myanmar’s leading environmental organisation.
Late last year, travel-search site Skyscanner named Myanmar the top destination for Australian travellers in 2015 – beating out Japan, Brazil and Greece – thanks to a 56 per cent increase in flight searches to the area.