Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Post-election boost not panning out for tourism

A hoped-for election dividend has not paid off, at least not so far, for Myanmar’s tourism industry.

Despite the mostly smooth and peaceful elections last November and the subsequent progress made toward handing over power to a new government, tourism experts say the sector has not seen the fillip they had expected.

High prices, poor infrastructure and inadequate human resources remain the same old problems. Ongoing tensions in Thailand are also seen to have had a negative impact on the industry.

U Aung Myat Kyaw, former chair of the Union of Myanmar Travel Association and central committee member of the Myanmar Tourism Federation, said hopes of a “democracy boost” to the industry were beginning to flag.

Tour numbers are down even at popular resorts like Bagan, while hotels along Ngapali’s sandy beaches are reporting a sharp downturn in foreign visitors, with occupancy rates down by about 10 percent from a year ago.

Domestic tourism is up and offsetting the lull to some extent. But where foreign tourists tend to come fairly steadily during the peak season from October to April, local travel is more concentrated around public holidays.

Myanmar is among the most expensive of all ASEAN countries, U Aung Myat Kyaw told The Myanmar Times. It is not easy to book online, room charges are high and services do not offer value for money.

“Foreign travel companies are directing tourists to cheaper and more convenient countries like Thailand and Vietnam. We need to do better marketing,” he said.

According to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, the country had 1279 hotels and 49,946 rooms available as of the end of December. But many remain almost empty.

“Thanks to the election, our image is good. We’re just too expensive,” said U Zaw Win Cho, chair of the Bagan Guide Association.

He said the rate for a four-star hotel is US$50 in Thailand or Cambodia, but $100 or more in Myanmar. An air ticket from Yangon to Bagan costs the same as Yangon-Bangkok, he said.

“We should also extend the visa-on-arrival system to more countries,” he said, suggesting the new National League for Democracy MPs should make tourism a priority.

“They can ask advice from private travel experts. We believe the NLD has a plan, and now is the time to implement it,” he said.

Koji Morio, deputy team leader of community-based tourism for the Japan International Cooperation Agency, said more Japanese visitors would come if they were exempted from visas for a 14-day trip.

He added that priority should be given to developing human resources, infrastructure and tourism management.

“In my opinion, human resources are not sufficient in Myanmar at this moment,” he said.

Daw Hlaing Hlaing Win, general manager of the Amazing Hotels & Resorts group, said occupancy had fallen despite the availability of wider choice and price discounts.

“We cut room prices by at least 10pc. But in Ngapali, Inle and Bagan tourist numbers are down despite an increase in domestic visitors in Ngapali,” she said.

One Ngapali hotel manager said she believed many tour groups had decided well in advance to give Myanmar a miss during the election and transition period, but said hopes still remain that bookings will recover after the 2016 monsoon season.