HOTELS in Bagan, in the heart of Myanmar’s main zone for ancient monuments, are not expected to be profitable this year, following the decline in tourist arrivals, according to Zaw Weik, chairman of Myanmar Hoteliers Association (Bagan Zone) and managing director of U Zaw Travels & Tours.
Zaw Weik said in an exclusive interview that Bagan welcomed over 300,000 tourists last year, 13 times less than Cambodia’s Siem Reap. He said tourist arrivals in Bagan declined 26 per cent last year from the figure for 2015.
“We received less tourists than the previous year as our tourism had been affected by misinterpretation of the real situation on social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter,” he said.
“Tourism is a very sensitive industry. So, people should not spread rumours about our country. Otherwise, that may lead tourists to concerns about Myanmar and even cancellations of planned trips. On the whole, it is the industry that will suffer from the impacts of social media.”
To him, stability and freedom from severe diseases and natural disasters play a crucial role in the growth of tourism in Bagan. He blamed some Facebook users for posting wrong information about outlook of flu such as H1N1 and H5N1 and exaggeration of conflicts in some ethnic areas.
“Currently, most of the hotels here post less than 30 per cent occupancy rate. They cannot even dream of yielding profits, just worrying about their survival in the long run,” he said.
He said many hoteliers had invested in Bagan as they expected a bright outlook, but the country's improved political climate failed to bring positive impacts on the industry.
“We expected a lot of positive changes after the civilian government took office. But unfortunately, we have not seen any significant change yet,” he said.
“We have been in a bad economic circle for a long time. Obviously, we cannot invest a fortune in marketing as costs have gone up. It is also really hard for us to reduce prices and we are now infamous for expensive tours. Once the reputation is gone, then everything is gone,” he said disappointedly.
He said the government’s budget allocation for the tourism sector was much less than that of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Yet, he seems satisfied with the implementation of community-based tourism sites across the nation.
Currently, Bagan houses 80 hotels which provide more than 6,000 rooms, while more than 20 hotels are under construction. Two-third of them are budget hotels and the rest are 3-star and 4-star properties. The hotel rate ranges from US$20 to over $400 per night. The city has yet to build a 5-star hotel, he said.
This year, Chinese lead in term of numbers of visitors to Bagan, followed by Thai, Japanese, and Koreans. The arrival of Americans and Europeans declined a bit, when compared to the previous year. Among Europeans, German and French tourists are top visitors
Yet, Zaw Weik expects to welcome more tourists in the peak season which starts in mid-October and lasts until the water festival in April. He foresees around 60-70 per cent occupancy rates in all the hotels during that period.
He said a direct air route between Bagan and Siem Reap would be operational in early 2018. He expects the Myanmar and Cambodia governments to sign the agreement on visa-on-arrival in November.
“This will provide tourists a chance to visit Bagan when they arrive in Cambodia. And with the visa-free agreement between India and Myanmar that comes into force on September 25, we also expect to welcome more Indian visitors,” he said.
He urged the government to again allow tourists to climb on some major pagodas to enjoy the sunset. People are no longer allowed to climb on some famous sunset viewing spots in Bagan after a powerful 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Myanmar last year.