Govt lures Chinese to fill Nay Pyi Taw’s hotel rooms

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Photo: Thompson Chau

As Myanmar’s hospitality sector is plagued by falling demand and oversupply, the ministry wants to lure one million tourists from China to fill the empty rooms in Nay Pyi Taw. But the cost barrier and lack of transport system make the barren capital all the more difficult to attract visitors, Western or Asian.

The plenary session on tourism was held as part of the Myanmar Global Investment Forum on September 12, at the Myanmar Convention Centre II.

Nicole Haeusler, advisory board member of GIZ, said on the panel that Myanmar needs a marketing strategy to cater for different types of tourists who aren’t necessarily compatible. More Chinese tourists are visiting the country but Myanmar only has two beach destinations to offer all customers. It would be a problem when different types of tourists all gather in those two beaches.

Furthermore, small and medium-sized enterprises in the tourism sector need access to finance in order to tap into the market demand in both domestic and international tourism, she added.

In major cities and attractions, there is an oversubscription of hotels but it is the variety of accommodation that is lacking. Tourist areas need options such as bed and breakfasts and camping.

An editorial printed by The Myanmar Times on July 27 argued that it is better value for money to fly to other countries in the region than to travel domestically, and many foreigners working in Yangon have opted that instead.

Dr Haeusler also touched on this issue, citing the costly flights and flight schedules as key hurdles. Foreigners working in other countries often travel to the countryside and beaches over weekends. “This is hardly happening in Myanmar,” she said.

The consultant estimated that it costs at least US$1,000 for a family to spend a weekend in places like Shan as the tickets are too expensive. In addition, the last flights from Yangon to Heho and Bagan every Friday are around 4pm, while the last return flights are around 4pm on Sundays. Hence, those who want to visit places like Inle and Bagan would be “spending $1,000 but not having sufficient time there”.

Visa exemption

Between January and July, Chinese tourist number was up 30pc this year compared to the same period in 2017, according to U Zayar Myo Aung, director of the hotel ministry’s Tourism Promotion Department.

“We admit that tourist number [growth] is slowing down, but we are now hoping to attract tourists from Asian countries,” he said, adding that more flights are coming from China.

The sector was placing their bets on the visa exemption for Japan, Korea, and visa on arrival for mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau. Meanwhile, the government is keen to develop community-based tourism for areas near tourist hotspots including Bagan, Inle and Kalaw.

Yet, an accompanying policy misstep backfired. The immigration ministry issued a policy on July 24 which requires East Asian visitors to bring US$1,000 in cash when they enter Myanmar under new arrangements. A week after the announcement, the government ditched that demand, following intense criticisms from industry players and even the hotel minister.

The Myanmar Times asked U Zayar Myo Aung what lessons this policy U-turn offered to the ministry. “We discussed with the ministries concerned, like the labour, foreign affairs and home affairs ministries. We discussed and decided that this [measure] is not very convenient for the tourists. We are introducing the visa relaxation but one of the obstacles is this ‘show the money’,” the director responded.

Asked if the authorities consulted private sector stakeholders before the immediate reversal, he said the ministry “discussed with the private sector” and had “many suggestions from the private sector, our stakeholders and other ministries” before changing the policy.

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