A tour operator is taking on the government of Myanmar’s southern Taninthayi Region to protect the right of foreign tourists to drive motorbikes in the Dawei Peninsula, one of Myanmar’s up-and-coming beach destinations.
According to a notice sent from the regional Ministry of Hotels and Tourism on June 1, “hotels, hostels, travel and tour companies, and private motorcycle rental shops should not rent out motorcycles to foreigners,” effective immediately.
The notice reasoned that the ban was the best way to end black market and illegal rentals of motorbikes to foreign tourists, which contribute to “illegal camping, endangerment to tourists, environmental destruction, lack of accountability, and the possibility of motorcycle accidents and crimes.”
Aye Thidar Win, the executive director of Dawei Panorama Travel and Tours, opposes the motorbike rental ban, arguing that it will harm Dawei’s chances of fulfilling its potential as a tourism hotspot.
“Dawei is very new destination, so most of its visitors are backpackers. Eighty-five percent of visiting foreigners want to drive motorbikes,” she told Coconuts.
She also explained that motorbikes are key to enjoying the peninsula’s best beaches, which are far from the town of Dawei and connected only by poor roads that support few public transportation options. Taking the bus from the town to the beaches means bypassing villages and businesses that would otherwise benefit from tourists stopping by.
“Tourists who use motorbikes can stop wherever they want, so small village restaurants, street shops, fruit shops, and tea shops can gain from their presence,” Aye Thidar Win said.
She also pointed out that motorbikes have not caused any foreign tourist deaths since she began operating tours in the area four years ago, and she has only seen tiny numbers of foreign tourists camping illegally and does not see how those cases are connected to the ability to drive a motorbike.
To combat the ministry’s ban, Aye Thidar Win has launched an online poll to gauge the ban’s effect on tourists’ willingness to visit Dawei. She plans to send a letter to the ministry based on the poll’s findings.
(Click here to participate in the poll.)
“This ban should be opposed,” she said. “Visiting Dawei is synonymous with motorbike exploring.”
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