Myanmar’s hotels are full, but it’s banning homestays because of unmannered foreigners

No room at the inn.
No room at the inn.
Image: Reuters/Minzayar
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The world’s enthusiasm for Myanmar and its newly open economy has outstripped the country’s fledgling tourist infrastructure, leaving hotel rooms in very short supply. There are only 8,000 hotel rooms in the former capital Yangon, and only 1,500 to 2,500 are up to international standards.

You might think the shortage—which is very slowly being eased by Western hotel chains like Best Western and Hilton—might provide the perfect opportunity for ad hoc house-sharing initiatives like AirBnB, so that Burmese eager to earn some hard currency could be matched up with tourists and other visitors in need of lodging. But not so fast: Minister for Hotels and Tourism U Htay Aung told tour guides this week that visitors are not allowed to not stay in private homes because their manners are “not acceptable.”

Foreigners “do not properly follow Myanmar customs, such as sleeping facing the east, and do not like the Myanmar style of eating, such as a family using one spoon to eat from a single bowl of soup,” the minister said, according to the Myanmar Times. He said an exception would be made only in rural areas without hotels.

“The manners of some foreigners are not appropriate for Myanmar people,” he added. The authoritarian government’s concern may also have to do with its ability to keep tabs on foreign visitors; by law, people staying at hotels must register with local authorities.

So for now people visiting Myanmar are stuck with finding one of the scant rooms available in what is now one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world, or risking the authorities’ wrath with an under-the-table (or not so under-the-table) room in a private home. Either way, booking ahead is highly recommended.