Outgoing Union Minister U Htay Aung told the Myanmar Times daily on March 18 that he was confident of a 25 percent increase in arrivals this year.
“We will be able to welcome 6 million tourists this year if the tourism situation can keep pace with the kind of sustainable peace and stability that the country has enjoyed. That’s very important in tourism,” he said.
Previous ministry forecasts were overplayed. For example, authorities predicted five million in 2015. The number was however 4.68 million international travellers. To the Myanmar Times, some tourism experts fear that the country is not ready for 6 million tourists, if indeed they arrive.
Critics also point out that a majority of ‘international tourists’ are rather day-trippers who cross land borders with Thailand and China, and contribute relatively little to the economy outside of border towns.
Of last year’s visitors, barely one- quarter, or 1.3 million, came through the international airports of Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw, according to ministry figures.
Tours Mandalay managing director U Khin Zaw said the country would have to develop its infrastructure, including airport capacity and human resources, before it could accommodate a major increase in arrivals through airports.
“Judging by my 28 years’ of experience in tourism, we don’t yet have the capacity for those 6 million tourists,” he said, adding that more immigration officers would have to be recruited, tour guides trained and hotels improved.
Instead of focusing on the numbers, the ministry should direct its attention to attracting more visitors during the low season, which coincides with the monsoon from May to September, said U Khin Zaw, a former Union of Myanmar Travel Association chair.
“We need to create a tourism market for the whole year to reduce the gap between high- and low-season prices. Myanmar is very expensive for tourists.”
He urged the incoming National League for Democracy government to focus on developing the tourism sector in a way that spreads the benefits to communities. One important step is to appoint a tourism minister with industry experience, he said – a break with past government practice, which saw serving or former military generals take the job.
“The tourism industry is not like other ministries. Tourism does not consume natural resources and it raises the living standards of the people. I believe the NLD will nominate the best person to reduce any negative impact from tourism,” he said.
Tour operator Daw Aye Sandar, director of Mother Irrawaddy, said she believed 6 million tourists would come as a result of the new political stability.
“I’m sure the next government will implement the best policy for the tourism sector,” she said.