April 20 - As western governments agree to relax economic sanctions on Myanmar the country is reporting an increase in tourism, after nearly two decades of virtual isolation. Hayley Platt reports.
It's made international headlines around the globe but Myanmar is not known as an international destination. But that's changing and hotels like this one in Yangon say they've never been busier. Recent reforms by the country's civilian government have convinced the west to relax economic sanctions - spurring an influx of curious tourists and attracting foreign investment. Kym Stacey is visiting from Australia. SHORTEN THIS BITE (SOUNDBITE) (English) 56-YEAR OLD AUSTRALIAN TOURIST, KYM STACEY, SAYING: "I was first here in 1979 and it was an interesting place to visit then, much like a time warp. It's interesting coming back after 35 years and just seeing some things have changed, newer cars, but in other ways, a lot things haven't changed." Myanmar's recent by-elections - which won pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi her first parliamentary seat - has also helped boost the country's international profile. Travel agent Edwin Briels says the country is preparing for an economic boom. (SOUNDBITE) (English) GENERAL MANAGER OF KHIRI TRAVEL EDWIN BRIELS SAYING: "You always, also have, tourists who previously thought it was not good to come to Myanmar because of sanctions and they now think: "Ok, now think it's ok to go there". And a lot of people are just curious. Because from the total number of foreigners arriving now, a lot of them are not tourists but businesspeople, people who are looking for opportunities." Last year more than 400,000 people visited the country - this year it's expected to double. Olga Yartseva from Russia came to see Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) RUSSIAN TOURIST OLGA YARTSEVA SAYING: "We saw a great deal during our trip. We've seen Europe and other parts of Asia. We wanted to see Myanmar. It's a remarkable country." Myanmar's military dictatorship failed to promote tourism despite the country's many attractions. There are just 600 hotels in the country and few have modern technology. But the government has now taken steps to change that - starting with the ancient city of Bagan. It's tipped to become the region's next holiday hot-spot. And that could bring in much needed cash for the local economy. Hayley Platt, Reuters.