Tourism Statistics Met with Skepticism

Article excerpt

Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES

KATHA, Burma - If Katha had been located in neighboring Thailand, it would be overrun with tourists - especially devotees of British writer George Orwell, who worked here as a colonial police officer in the late 1920s and made it the setting of his first novel, "Burmese Days."

But despite assertions of a spurt in tourism by Burma's military rulers, not many tourists make it to this leafy northern town on the Irrawaddy River.

The regime in Rangoon says 656,910 tourists visited Burma last year, up about 12 percent from 2003. Tourism earnings rose by 17 percent to $135 million. The target for this year is 750,000 tourists, and Rangoon airport is being expanded to handle 2.3 million visitors by 2006.

But though unspoiled Burma is, in the words of a top tourism official, "a paradise waiting to be discovered," analysts remain skeptical about the government's tourism statistics. Burma is by far the laggard in Southeast Asia, which attracted 50 million foreign visitors last year.

"Even official figures, rarely reliable, show that only 240,000 tourists came by air," said a Rangoon diplomat. …