Myanmar’s tourism authorities hope industry will remain bright

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – Myanmar’s tourism authorities are proceeding with their development plans in anticipation that the industry will remain bright before and after the general election expected in November.

Hlaing Oo, deputy director general of the Hotels and Tourism Ministry, says that Asean economic integration is one factor that will boost the number of business and leisure travelers visiting the country.

“The more people visit Asean, the more visitors Myanmar will receive. We are improving cooperation with other Asean member states in terms of connectivity, infrastructure and human resources development … We must think of two ways. As we are focusing on regional cooperation and integration, tour companies are also trying their best to attract more visitors,” he says on the sidelines of the Myanmar Hospitality and Tourism Conference.

“We are now striving to catch up with the tourist arrivals of other Asean members. For the time being, we need to start from the regional level. It may take time for us to keep abreast with our neighbouring countries, like Thailand.”

Last year, Myanmar welcomed 3.08 million visitors, representing a 51 per cent growth rate from the previous year. The growth rate was impressive, compared to 23 per cent in 2013 and 24 per cent in 2012.

Hliang Oo admits that growth is high but the numbers are still low compared with the rest of Asean. Still, the prospects are bright.

The focus is now placed on boosting the number of tourists at international airports as well as through border checkpoints.

“Airline capacity plays a vital role in increasing the number of tourist arrivals at our international airports. So we need to take load factor into serious consideration. At the same time, we are trying to increase visitor arrivals at the Chinese and Thai border checkpoints,” he said.

According to the official, the results of the 2015 general election will not have a huge impact on the tourist arrivals as the visitors’ main intention is to enjoy Myanmar’s key destinations, attractions and hospitality.

Hlaing Oo adds that all the ministry officials are trying to boost growth although the country has performed above the projections highlighted by the Myanmar Tourism Master Plan 2013­2020.

The master plan, drawn with the support of Asian Development Bank, set a high target of 3.09 million international visitors for 2015 and 7.48 million by 2020. Based on the high growth scenario, tourism receipts were projected to increase from a baseline of US$534 million in 2012 to US$10.18 billion in 2020. Under the scenario, the tourism industry could sustain up to 1.49 million jobs by 2020.

Tourism has been highlighted as one of the most promising sectors. Along with the export of natural resources, it is bringing in huge foreign income. Last year, Myanmar’s tourism income exceeded the US$1 billion mark. Gaining US$1.14 billion in the year, it reaped US$926 million in 2013 and US$534 million in 2012.

Hliang Oo says the plan itself needs proper revisions as its projections are based on the data and statistics at that time. He suggests taking both the internal and external impacts and visitors’ behaviour into serious consideration when reviewing the master plan, as tourism is different from industries like manufacturing.

According to the official, Myanmar has implemented more than 80 per cent of the recommendations in the master plan, which mainly concern infrastructure like roads. This supports the introduction of new destinations to bring in more visitors.

He says a destination with the most potential is Chin State’s Mount Natma, one of the protected areas designated as national park by the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry.

There are also the Pyu cities (Beikthano, Hanlin and Srikestra) which are now registered as a Unesco’s world heritage site, and the Myeik archipelago comprising of about 800 islands. Loikaw in Kayah State and Rakhine State are also among the country’s potential destinations.

In a related development, Saw Du War, programme manager at the United Nations Development Programme, says that a five­year plan (2016­2020) is being drawn up to promote tourism in Inle, Shan State. The UNDP is involved thanks to its knowledge in ecosystem conservation, which is crucial to keeping the famous Inle Lake from drying up. The region welcomed about 120,000 foreign visitors in 2013. In the previous high season, it attracted about 4,000 visitors a day. There are 75 hotels and guesthouses in the Taunggyi and Inle regions.

Pushing the tourism engine are nearly 2,000 staff at the Directorate of Hotels and Tourism.

At a time of spending constraints on the public sector, the ministry has provided training to all its staff to ensure that they can accommodate the national plan. In the past, the ministry’s offices were only located in Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Inle, Tachileik and Kawthaung. But new offices were recently opened in Myeik, Maw Taung, Loikaw, Pyay and in Rakhine State.

“We have opened branch offices in all of the key destinations and hope to increase the number of the staff there soon,” Hliang Oo said.

Source: TN Global travel industry news

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