Thursday, September 21, 2017

Myanmar's tourism industry grapples with 'scary' success

Monks light candles at Shwedagon Pagoda during Thadingyut. (Boothee/The Myanmar Times)Monks light candles at Shwedagon Pagoda during Thadingyut. (Boothee/The Myanmar Times)

A record-breaking surge in tourism brought one million foreign visitors to Myanmar last year, the highest figure recorded. And amid predictions of a further 30 percent increase this year, despite soaring hotel bills and a shortage of skilled staff, industry professionals are describing the country’s sudden success as “scary”.

The steady rise in the country’s popularity, both as a holiday destination and a place for doing business, has accompanied the process of political and economic reform.

According to Ministry of Hotels and Tourism statistics, most visitors enter the country through Yangon airport, the destination of choice for most international airlines that serve the country. Others come through Mandalay, Bagan, Nay Pyi Taw, and across land borders.

Yangon received 554, 531 foreign visitors in 2012, up 54.31 percent from 2011. Of these, Asian nationals accounted for 347,241, more than 62 pc of the total, including about 91,817 from Thailand – the largest single group by nationality – followed by Japan with 47,501, China with 41,542,283. Nearly 36,500 came from the United States.

European nationals accounted for 135,692 visitors, representing 24.45 pc of total arrivals. France led the way with 29,684, followed by the United Kingdom (23,291) and Germany (21,856).

The figures also showed that free independent travellers (FITs) made up the single largest group with 232,715 visitors, followed by package tourists (12 6,036), business travellers (114,456) and social visa holders (37,778).

Myanmar received 33,771 tourists through Mandalay, Nyaung U and Nay Pyi Taw, and 465,614 tourists through checkpoints on the borders with Thailand, China and India.

Tourist arrival numbers are expected to rise another 30 percent in 2013, mirroring a similar increase in 2012, industry sources said.

While Asian countries will continue to supply tmost visitors, strong growth is likely in previously nascent Western markets because of the country’s improving international image.

U Phyo Wai Yar Zar, managing director of All Asia Exclusive Travel and chairman of Myanmar Marketing Committee, said 2013 would be a challenging year for inbound tour operators in Myanmar.

“Since the infrastructure will be far less than the demand, inbound tour operators will face serious challenges,” he said.

Daw Phyu Phyu Mar, managing eirector of Seven Star Tours in Yangon, said: “2013 is scary for all inbound tour operators. We suffered and struggled with skyrocketing hotel rates in 2012 with a million visitors, and we expect an increase up to 30 percent this year. All we need is accommodation and skilled workers in the industry. Hoteliers and industry players are trying very hard to provide enough accommodation for 2013-2014.”