Tourism booms amid concerns of shortages

ASEAN+ March 28, 2014 00:00

By Achara Deboonme
Aung Ye Ko

President Thein Sein has set an ambitious tourism target, to attract 5 million visitors in 2015.

“Tourist arrivals broke the record since 2011 and reached to 2 million in 2013. Our country has topped the list of world top travel destinations awarded by international tourism organisations for three consecutive years,” the president said in his address to the Union Parliament.
Earlier, tourism officials announced the target for the year 2015. The tourism master plan is implemented this year, highlighting Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, Inle, Kyeikhtiyo, Ngapali, Ngwe Saung, Putao, Myeik, Naga, Netmaung Taung and Loikaw as areas of interest.
Welcoming 2.04 million last year, Myanmar expects more than 3 million this year. Tourism revenue was more than US$926 million last year, compared with $534 million in 2012.
New records are expected as the country becomes a new destination for travellers and businessmen across the globe, amid concerns over poor infrastructure and negative impacts on local culture from the influx.
Maung Maung Swe, vice chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Board, said recently that the outlook over the next few years is for double-digit annual growth. But this is dependent on the success of efforts to improve its infrastructure, from new hotels to airports.
According to statistics for 2013, travellers from Asia commanded the biggest share of arrivals with 630,399 (70 per cent), followed by 158,163 from Western Europe (18 per cent), 62,628 from North America (7 per cent), and 28,079 from Oceania (3 per cent). 
Visitor arrivals in 2013 
Destination/No. of visitors 
Western Europe/158,163
North America/ 62,628
Oceania/ 28,079
Source: Myanmar Tourism Board 
Others came from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central and South America and Africa. 
“In the current period, people are becoming interested in Myanmar. They want to know what Myanmar is. They want to come and learn what business they can run in the country. Consequently, the number of visitors is increasing every year. In spite of being inferior in numbers to some of our regional neighbours, there are a lot of prospects for Myanmar,” Hlaing Oo, a director from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, said this week.
To promote tourism, Myanmar already abolished visa requirements for nationals from Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines. As of February, Hotels and Tourism Minister Htay Aung said the country plans to offer the exemption to Thailand, which produced the biggest number of visitors.
Due to the influx, Yangon International Airport - the main gateway to the country – becomes congested, sending a sign that more must be done to ensure sustainability in the tourism industry.
A new airport, Hanthawaddy International Airport, is planned with construction cost of US$1.1 billion to $1.5 billion. 
According to Maung Maung Swe, when this is open in 2016 on schedule together with a new international airport in Nay Pyi Taw, this will help boost the flow of business people and tourists into Myanmar. 
Yet, he acknowledged that the fast growth of the tourism sector had created headaches especially a lack of accommodation and facilities and a shortage of skilled workers to serve the rising demand. He estimated that the industry needs 500,000 skilled personnel.
This year, the number of hotel rooms is projected to surpass 40,000, up from 34,834 last year. Openings of new four- and five-star hotels in Yangon will include a Hilton, Rose Garden Hotel, The State House and Novotel Yangon Max, while in Nay Pyi Taw, Best Western Premier the Grand is being made ready.
At the end of 2013, there were 923 hotels with 34,834 rooms in Myanmar. However, only 17 were categorised as four-star properties, and just six as five-star. Many popular destinations including Inlay region still lack enough hotels to accommodate tourists as increasing numbers of visitors visit Myanmar during the high season between November and February. 
New routes are being shaped while existing routes are extended. New destinations for ecotourism are emerging. Putao, the Myeik Archipelagos, Naga Land, Hakha, Natma Taung and Loikaw city are promising destinations, according to the Myanmar Tourism Master Plan. Recently, tourism firms in Dawei Township plan viable ecotourism businesses in order to protect the ecology of their region, under the "Community Involvement in Tourism" policy.
Maung Maung Swe admitted that because of the inadequate supply in major cities, especially Nay Pyi Taw and Yangon, room rates have stayed high. He noted that the country has made a big effort to bring rates down by decentralising its investment to other cities to promote them as new destinations, which would reduce the demand for rooms in the key cities. At present, five-star hotels average $280 per night.