Friday, August 18, 2017

The career journey of a local tour operator

When then-27-year-old U Htike Lun Maung embarked on his new adventure in tourism with little experience he had little inkling that one day he would become a successful entrepreneur and build a reputable tour company.

Tour operator U Htike Lun Maung: “I dare to face whatever challenges confront me. That is why I am still here today.” Photo - SuppliedTour operator U Htike Lun Maung: “I dare to face whatever challenges confront me. That is why I am still here today.” Photo - Supplied

Early failures gave him the strength to pursue his new career, and 16 years later, the 43-year-old founder of New Motion Travel and Tours prides himself as someone who has made it in a tough, competitive industry.

“I wouldn’t be standing here if I was afraid of the trouble I faced at the beginning of my experience as a domestic tour operator,” U Htike Lun Maung told The Myanmar Times.

With little experience and capital of only K1,500,000 (US$1100) borrowed from a friend, U Htike Lun Maung launched his career because he believed the growing local tourism industry offered huge potential for young entrepreneurs like himself.

“To launch a hotel and restaurant business requires a huge investment, but to be a tour operator we only need a small amount of capital. That’s why I decided to work as a tour operator. It was compatible with my hobby and what I could afford,” he said.

Domestic tourism before 2011 was not well developed because the transportation network was not there, unlike now, when it is easy to move around the country. Holiday-makers and those on pilgrimage numbered 7.1 million from last August to the end of April this year – a big boost for the sector.

In the past, most domestic travellers preferred to stay in monasteries but now the trend is for holiday-makers to demand comfort, preferring hotels and expecting itineraries to be planned for them in advance.

U Htike Lun Maung’s journey was no cake walk. When he started in 2001, he offered holiday packages with hotel stays in Taunggyi, Inle Lake and Kalaw. Though all were sold out, success almost turned into a tragedy due to an expected vehicle breakdown, and he incurred heavy financial losses.

“I lost as soon as I started my business because I didn’t have any experience. But I was not afraid and managed to resolve the problem when the breakdown happened. Now I dare to face whatever challenges confront me, and that is the reason I am still here today,” U Htike Lun Maung said.

Ambitious, he created his own business model to rival his competitors, by offering clients complete information about travel plans, which some 2000 domestic operators failed to do. He provided hotel names, restaurants and destinations in the itineraries, which were helpful for travellers.

“So I attracted many visitors because people are interested in new things and up-to-date information,” he said, adding that when he started, he enlisted the help of his younger sister because he could not afford to hire staff.

But now, his company employs 90 staff and has a solid reputation.

There are more than 650 domestic tour companies in Myanmar that still promote the monastery stays preferred by the older generation of travellers.

Over the years, U Htike Lun Maung managed to overcome all the obstacles caused by the lack of a proper transportation system, poor quality vehicles on the road, and a poor telecommunications network

“Hotel reservations were easy in 2001 because few tourists visited Myanmar then. Now hotel room rates are higher and locals have to pay the same price as foreigners. Also, cancellation fees are increasing, which makes it difficult to do business,” he said.

According to the Ministry of Hotel and Tourism, there were 1512 hotels and 59,723 rooms in the country as of June.

As for the future, U Htike Lun Maung envisions building a hotel and helping to manage other hotels. He also plans to venture into out-bound tourism, which is getting popular as more Myanmar travellers opt to go abroad on vacation.

While building a successful business is U Htike Lun Maung’s dream, he also has a philanthropic side. He plans to adopt about 100 orphans, providing them with accommodations and supporting their education until they complete university, and to care for the elderly.