MYANMAR’S public and private sectors must join forces to turn the country into a popular destination for high-end travellers, as rich cultural and natural resources could boost tourism income from just 5 per cent of gross domestic product at present, indu
Panellists at the Hospitality and Tourism Conference Myanmar last week agreed Myanmar had the potential to become a luxury destination if more investment was injected into the sector, to offer more luxury products and services.
Last year, 4.68 million foreign visitors to the country spent US$2.12 billion (Bt74 billion), or $453 on average, compared to over $1,000 that visitors spend when in the Philippines and Thailand.
“Luxury people expect to see a good restaurant with plenty of choices for delicious food, the best wine, excellent facilities and systems [at the hotel they stay at]. They want everything to go smoothly from arrival to departure,” said Olivier Trinquand, vice president of The Strand Hotel and Cruise – one of the oldest five-star hotels in the country.
Trinquand said all four- and five-star hotels in Myanmar would be fully booked all year round, if 10 per cent of tourists visiting Myanmar were high-end travellers.
He noted that Myanmar had a lot of products for luxury travel, but the industry was being held back by a lack of investment in additional products and services like river cruising. Siem Reap’s success in drawing more than 2.4 million tourists last year was highlighted as a good example.
Anthony McDonald, chief executive of Bespoke Hospitality Management Asia, suggested scuba diving as one “luxury” experience that Myanmar should develop.
“Most of the high-end visitors do not worry about losing money. They are just worried about wasting their holidays,” he said.
Jean-Marc Poli, general manager of ParkRoyal Yangon, sees great potential outside Yangon, as the ParkRoyal Nay Pyi Taw was doing very well this year compared to last year, he said.
In all, he believed that services play the most crucial role in at-|tracting guests. Stable Internet access for at least three devices, large and clean bathrooms, high security and good breakfasts were among them. Across the sector, this would be better given the establishment of tourism vocational schools, he said.
“Prices can be adjusted [due to competition] but quality should not be compromised,” he said.
Samuel Bon, chief executive officer of Swisscontact – a non-profit organisation that allocated $20 million for technical-skills improvement projects, noted that training was crucial given that tourists would be exposed to a large number of local people – from at the airport and in taxis to at restaurants.
He said Myanmar could take time in developing the sector according to their roadmap, but it should also take business travellers’ views into account.
About 3,000 new rooms are expected to open in the country in the next few years. AccorHotels, with four hotels in the nation, sees a chance to double that number within five years, as more locals were ready to invest in new hotels.
“Myanmar is one of the countries with high repeated visitors,” said Victor Pang, Accor executive for development. “They are here for wonderful experiences, not big structures. They are here to experience people, not just temples.”
But with few luxury travellers now, some luxury hotels opt to cut prices to cope with low occupancy rates. The opening of more hotels could also worsen the turnover of staff at hotels in the lower tiers.
Win Oo Tan, director of Aureum Group, urged the government to be more proactive in boosting the industry. An effective strategy for the luxury market was necessary, and hoteliers and operators must follow this, he said.
In Kachin and Kayah states, several places were worth being promoted, along with beautiful lakes and mountains across the country.
He said the industry needed a lot of support from the government in terms of marketing, or low returns could deter new investment.
“We are more than willing to help support the government. We do need a good leader,” he said.