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Myanmar Not Ready To Deal With Huge Influx Of Tourists: Industry Players
Source: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/southeastasia/view/1249466/1/.html
Source Date: Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Focus: Electronic and Mobile Government
Country: Myanmar
Created: Jan 22, 2013

YANGON: Myanmar's tourism industry is booming, following the country's economic and political reform.

Latest data from the Myanmar Tourism Federation has shown a record 1 million tourists visited Myanmar last year.

But industry players warn the country isn't yet ready to receive a huge inflow of visitors, as the tourism infrastructure is still under-developed.

For the last four decades, international visitors could only enjoy Myanmar's panoramic sights in the presence of government minders.

Getting a tourist visa was also not easy.

Even those trying to promote tourism in the country had a tough time.

Phyoe Wai Yar Zar, chairman of the Myanmar Marketing Committee, said: "When we approached some tour operators, they simply said 'we are not going to promote your country'.

"We have faced such rejections many times. But we do not despair. We keep on promoting Myanmar in international trade shows."

Myanmar was only able to attract 200,000 international tourists a year.

But that changed dramatically after the government undertook political and economic reform two years ago.

A record 1 million international tourists visited Myanmar last year - a staggering jump of five times its average annual arrivals.

Dr Aung Myat Kyaw, chairman of the Myanmar Travel Association, said: "We never actually expected this increase because the numbers have been stagnant for so many years. So we never expected this jump."

Almost two-thirds of the international tourists come through Yangon International Airport - the main gateway for overseas visitors.

The remainder pass through the country's border checkpoints with China and Thailand.

The French top the European visitors. But overall, it is the Asians who make up the majority of international arrivals.

Yan Min, chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Federation, said: "The top markets are China, Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, Japan and Singapore."

The Myanmar government is already preparing to receive even more visitors from ASEAN countries in 2015.

That is when an open skies policy will be introduced and visa requirements lifted under the ASEAN Community Plan.

But industry players are not sure Myanmar is ready for an influx of tourists.

Mr Phyoe said: "We need more hotels - international standard hotels. We do have hotels run by Myanmar nationals. But we need to upgrade the skills of those running the hotels and we also need to expand the number of rooms."

The urgent need to develop tourism infrastructure has spurred the Myanmar Tourism Federation to hold the country's first Hospitality and Tourism Conference in Yangon next month.

The ideas generated from that will be used to draw up the government's tourism master plan.

Besides the majestic Shwedagon, the Sule Pagoda is another tourist attraction in Yangon. But Myanmar has much more to offer beyond the former capital. It is now about getting them ready to receive an expected influx of visitors.

- CNA/ms
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