Saturday, June 24, 2017
The Myanmar Times
The Myanmar Times

Growing pains as Myanmar hits 2 million visitor mark

Myanmar welcomed more a “record-breaking” 2 million visitors last year but rising travel costs associated with a shortage of hotel rooms could hamper future growth, industry experts have warned.

Cattle are escorted past an ancient pagoda at Bagan. Photo: AFPCattle are escorted past an ancient pagoda at Bagan. Photo: AFP

Nevertheless, Minister for Hotels and Tourism U Htay Aung told The Myanmar Times he was upbeat about the 2013 result and forecast more of the same this year.

“The year 2013 was a successful year for the tourism industry in Myanmar,” he said in a recent interview. “We received more than 2 million visitor arrivals from January to December in 2013, which is a record-breaking [number].

“In 2014, we will endeavour to get 3 million visitor arrivals,” he said, adding that Myanmar’s chairing of ASEAN during 2014 should help boost the totals.

The nation is scheduled to host between 300 and 500 meetings of the regional bloc this year, from minister’s summits on down to smaller working groups.

From January 1 to December 31, 2.04 million foreign visitors entered the country, with 885,476 arriving by air, 6086 by water and more than 1.15 million by land through border checkpoints. This was almost double the foreign visitors that arrived the previous year.

Visits through Yangon, the main gateway for Western tourists, jumped 44.81pc on 2012, tourism ministry statistics show, with 803,014 foreign tourists arriving via the country’s largest city and primary international air gateway last year.

Of these, 550,178 visitors – or around 69pc – were from Asian countries and 157,840 from Europe. France provided the largest number of European visitors with 33,250, followed by the United Kingdom and Germany.

Business visa arrivals jumped 32.28 pc, from 114,456 in 2012 to 151,320 in 2013, while social visa arrivals rose 20.61pc, from 37,778 to 45,556.

Visits by foreign individual travellers, or FITs, through the Yangon gateway jumped 25.10pc, from 234,727 in 2012 to 293,648, while package tour arrivals grew a relatively sluggish 8.26pc.

Daw Su Su Tin, managing director of Exotissimo Travel Myanmar, said this FIT growth was “likely to continue in the 2014-2015 season”, which begins in October.

Last year also saw a rise in another important category: daily average spending, which Daw Su Su Tin said was up 20-30pc on 2012.

Frank Janmaat, group general manager of Amata Hotels and Resorts, said the rise in spending was not positive and showed Myanmar has become an expensive destination, largely because of hotel costs and transportation. A number of foreign tour operators have even taken Myanmar off their programs because of the skyrocketing prices, he said.

“It is difficult to sell your client that for the same price you can get two nights in a 5-star hotel in Bangkok or one night in a 3-star hotel in Yangon,” he said. “As long as the hotel owners do not take responsibility for the future of tourism in Myanmar we will be back to our 2008 number of arrivals very soon.”

He recommended policy changes to take the pressure off hotel chains and help diversify the types of accommodation available.

“New destinations need to be promoted and some local rules changed to allow visitors to stay overnight [through homestay programs],” he said. “Our marketing efforts should diversify to the less-developed rural areas, which can offer interesting tourist products. This is not only important for the development of these areas but will relieve the pressure on the more [popular] destinations.”

U Phyoe Wai Yar Zar, head of Myanmar Tourism Marketing – formerly known as the Myanmar Marketing Committee – said the shortage of hotel rooms at major tourist destinations and the lack of a well-trained workforce would be the major challenges for the sector in coming years.

He agreed on the need to promote new destinations to relieve the pressure on popular sites such as Bagan and Inle Lake.

“Accessibility to the remote and emerging destinations is getting easier,” U Phyoe Wai Yar Zar said. “However, we need to have better coordination between the relevant ministries and regional governments in order to … develop the off-the-beaten-track destinations.”

According to ministry figures, as of January 31 Myanmar had 923 licensed hotels and approximately 34,834 rooms.