Myanmar: The New Tourism Brand

03 Jul, 2013    ·   4021

Aparupa Bhattacherjee outlines the objectives of and obstacles to the growth of the sector

Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Research Officer

Recently, the Myanmar government revealed a seven-year master plan in collaboration with Asian Development Bank and Norwegian government, worth USD500 million to help the country upgrade its competiveness in tourism. This plan charts 38 developmental projects, which also include the protection of environmentally important areas and safeguarding ethnic communities. The much appreciated political and economic transition in Myanmar has resulted in the return of tourists to Myanmar. Thus, the country has witnessed a sudden boom in the tourism industry, which has been encashed by the government for revenue and also providing job opportunities to local people.

What are the developments in tourism sector, since the change in Myanmar‘s political scenario? Moreover, the rise in the number of tourists also requires adequate infrastructure to meet their requirements. Is Myanmar capable enough to meet the sudden influx of tourists? What are the obstacles that the tourism industry has to get over in order to achieve success?

The Upward Graph
Although the Myanmar government has encouraged tourism since 1992, the growth in the number of tourists increased from 2009. During the unveiling ceremony of the seven years tourism master plan, the government announced that Myanmar has set a high target of welcoming 3.01 million international visitors in 2015 and 7.48 million in 2020. The increasing emphasis on this sector is due to the huge revenue that the government earns from this sector, and also because tourism is a primary employment generating sector for the country. In 2012, revenues from tourism jumped to over USD534 million in 2012, up from USD315 million in 2011.

The end of political turmoil in the country has provided scope for the rest of the world to witness the sunrise in Bagan or the pristine beaches of Ngwe Suang. Moreover, with the opening up of the economy in Myanmar, there has been a flood of investment in Myanmar. Steps have been initiated by different countries to improve tourism with Myanmar. For example, Manipur has proposed to introduce flights between Imphal and Monywa, Mandalay, and Yangon in order to enjoy mutual benefits of trade, tourism, business, and investment between the state and Myanmar. If the proposed initiative works, this will benefit India as a whole as the connection between New Delhi and Myanmar needs to grow in order to meet the demand of the increasing number of Indian tourists and diplomats to Myanmar. The expansion plans have also been taken up by Laos Airlines to link Vientiane and Luang Prabang with Yangon after more than two decades of no services. Nearly 64 percent tourists come from Asia, majority of them being from Thailand and China. Myanmar welcomes many Thai tourists as Thailand is the immediate neighbour of Myanmar. In the case of China, it is quite well connected to Myanmar, thus benefitting the Chinese tourists traveling to Myanmar. The rest of the tourists are either from Europe or from North America. These increasing numbers make the growing importance of Myanmar all over the world evident.

Still a Long Way to Go
Although Myanmar’s rich cultural heritage is able to attract tourists, the country does not have adequate facilities to provide hospitality to these tourists. There are not adequate numbers of hotels in Myanmar. Currently, there are around 25,000 rooms available in 731 hotels around Myanmar, which is not enough to meet the rising demand. Since Myanmar’s government had opened their economy, there has been influx of investment in the country. Thus, Myanmar’s hotels are not only full with tourists, but also with business tycoons from all over the world. Moreover, the hotel services are poor; there are no sufficient tour guides. Insufficient hotels make the price of hotel and motel rooms expensive, making it difficult for the travellers to afford them.

Improvement has to also be initiated to develop the communication within the country. The railways are still ancient colonial ones; roadways are not developed in the rural areas. At present, both Internet and mobile service penetration are growing within the country. In fact, renovation projects have to also commence on various sites and monuments, which are significant from the tourism prospective. Another chief hindrance in the path of Myanmar’s tourism sector development is that most tourist spots are located in those areas that are still under the curb of ethnic conflict. Therefore, most of the tourists are not allowed in those areas. Moreover, weak banking structure and language problem in the country worsens the situation.

Much of the initiative has been taken by the government in order to work on the blemishes in the development of this sector. Many Asian and European countries, realising the strategic importance of Myanmar, specially the potential of growth in this particular sector have come in front with both monetary and physical support. As of now, these lacunae work as hindrance in the path of Myanmar’s hospitality. Only time can answer whether there will be substantial growth in this sector or the growth will be at a snail’s pace.