Fixing the tourism industry

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Myanmar is targeting tourists from Asian to make up for the drop in western visitors.
Photo: Shin Moe Myint/The Myanmar Times

The govt wants to lure tourists back to Myanmar. Will its efforts work?

The Myanmar tourism industry has suffered from a big drop in tourists due to the unfolding refugee crisis in northern Rakhine. With the number of visitors from the US and Europe declining sharply over the past year, some tour companies and hoteliers have already started putting their employees on unpaid leave arrangements to cut costs.

Meanwhile, the government is experimenting with a slew of incentives aimed at drawing visitors from Asia to Myanmar to counter the fall in western tourists. Last week, after backlash from the industry, it abandoned a prerequisite under new visa arrangements for Japanese, Chinese and South Korean visitors to have US$1,000 in cash when they enter Myanmar.

But the struggle in tourism is more deep-seated than just a fall in western tourists. The problem inherent in the industry is over-investment and unrealistically priced services. This will take more than short term government incentives to fix. A restructuring of the industry for the long term is required.

Taking measures

Myanmar received 1.72 million international visitors as at June 30.. That’s an increase of nearly 700,000  visitors since 2010, according to the  Ministry of Hotel and Tourism

In the past year though, the number of tourists from the UK, France, Germany and Italy have fallen by an average of 15pc, U Kyaw Min Htin, chair of Myanmar Polestar Travels & Tours, told Myanmar Japon Plus magazine in June.

At a Nay Pyi Taw conference held last month to address the fall, stakeholders in the tourism industry urged the government for better policies and programs to promote Myanmar as a tourist destination. They also discussed ways to improve the industry, such as organising talent recruitment fairs and reducing confusion over visa requirements for tourists from China, South Korea and Japan.

This month, the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population announced that from October 1 onwards, holders of passports from China, Macau and Hong Kong would be eligible for US$50 visas on arrival at the Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw airports. Meanwhile, an earlier prerequisite for the visitors to each have $1,000 in cash was abandoned last week.

Visa exemptions will also be given to passport holders of Japan and South Korea from October 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019 at every international gateway into the country. As a result, the number of Japanese visiting Myanmar is expected to double over the period from just over 100,000 in 2017, according to U Ye Tun Oo, CEO of Vivo Myanmar Travel and Tours.

“As fewer European tourists are coming to Myanmar, we are trying to attract more visitors from Japan, South Korea and China. That is why we are giving visa exemptions to those countries,” said Vice president U Henry Van Thio at the conference.

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