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On the road to tourism success

Ken Leong is a pragmatist who would not waste time on something unless he can make substantive enough contributions and gain from it.

But there’s always something that fascinates him about Myanmar – the resilience and friendliness of its people and their unique charming cultures, as well as the refreshing natural topography despite being in a state of sustained neglect for decades.

Mr Leong, founder and projects director of the Singapore advertising design and marketing firm Visibility Design Limited, did not have a second thought when – during a chance meeting in Yangon with veteran Myanmar mountain climber Win Ko Ko, they crystallised a campaign idea to help the country’s tourism industry which suffered a slump due to the humanitarian crisis in northern Rakhine State.

Both Mr Leong and Win Ko Ko share the belief that the Myanmar people can rise above the stalemate the country is facing now through their collective endeavour and firm resolve and determination.

After a series of meetings, the “Journey to Greatness” project came into being with the endorsement and support of Hotels and Tourism Minister U Ohn Maung, which they secured within weeks. Win Ko Ko was given the title of goodwill travel ambassador, and with his best friend and cycling companion will begin a journey of Myanmar from north to south over the course of six weeks at the end of May.

A TV crew from broadcast partner Skynet will travel with Win Ko Ko to capture footage from the journey to produce a six-part sports-reality programme that will be aired in Myanmar and subsequently by TV stations in neighbouring countries.

“The objective of this project is to generate positive publicity for Myanmar tourism by profiling the unspoiled beauty and cultural diversity of the land and its people,” Mr Leong said. “A country is represented by a multitude of facets, and these will evolve or change with time. Our campaign tries to bring out what is appealing and worth upholding in Myanmar.”

The Singaporean advertising executive said Wi Ko Ko’s initiative will eventually air on other TV networks in the Asian region, which is the main target of the government’s tourism campaign amid the decline in arrivals by western tourists due to the Rakhine crisis.

“There exists tremendous potential to explore and indulge in the vast majority of the country’s untarnished regions,” he said, expressing quiet confidence that the Rakhine crisis as well as the other decades-old wars in the country will eventually be resolved as Myanmar’s fledgling democratic institutions strengthen.

“No one can predict when these conflicts will end, we can only hope for them to dissipate in the near future,” Mr Leong said. “In the meantime Myanmar has to find a way to welcome visitors and advance their tourism industry, which will hopefully lead to investment interest in other sectors of the economy.”

He said that compared to neighbouring countries, Myanmar offers more places that are “less familiar” and culturally different.

“The potential for adventure tourism in Myanmar is tremendous,” he said “With any increase in demand, glamping (a blend of glamour and camping), eco-tourism will eventually find places to establish a foothold, and these niches can in a short time spawn a myriad of travel sub-industries.”

He also believes that tourists are relatively safe while in the country as long as they “make logical travel decisions.”

“Myanmar is considered by most to be generally safe within the cities. Local guides are helpful when traversing in regions outside the city,” he said.

However, the pragmatist in him concedes that “it might be a tad ambitious to expect a tourist influx in the near term.”

Mr Leong predicted that with a concerted effort by corporate citizenry and the government, it would be realistic to expect “a steady stream of visitors with a single digit year-on-year increment of arrivals.”

But he warned that the government needs to facilitate and support private enterprises to help get more tourists into the country.

He said key infrastructure like roads, communications and transportation is essential, not only in tourism, but also in developing the economy.

“The service standards in the hospitality sector are a factor really worth looking into,” he said. “Generally travellers to developing countries can be forgiving of poor infrastructure and amenities, but the human to human factor, sufficient knowledge, the care and concern involved in the interaction, can really make or break a traveller’s overall experience.”

“Besides knowledge and service, standards of hygiene, especially in public facilities in and around places of interest must be spruced up, hospitality related businesses sending their front-line personnel for knowledge and skills training would be a good first step,” he added.

Source: Myanmar Times

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