First Decrease in Myanmar Tourism in a Decade

After a tremendous growth in tourist arrivals over the last decade- total official tourist arrivals jumped from 0.73 million in 2008 to 4.66 million in 2015, up by 538%-, 2016 marked a break for Myanmar tourism. According to Mrs Khin Than Win, Deputy Director General of the Myanmar Ministry of Hotels and Tourism at a press conference during the recent ASEAN Travel Forum 2017, official data showed a decrease last year of 38% with only 2.9 million foreign arrivals recorded.

“However, the figure has been distorted by the fact that we changed the accounting of travellers. From now, the Ministry for Immigration and Population only counts visitors with a visa, who can be considered as real travellers compared to one-day visitors crossing with land borders”, explains Mrs. Khin Than.

In 2015, the last year with the previous accounting methodology, total arrivals to Myanmar reached 4.68 million  of which 3.37 million passed through “Border Gateways”. Arrivals at the three international airports (Mandalay, Nay Pyi Taw and Yangon) reached 1.3 million in 2015. Yangon International Airport recorded 1.18 million tourist arrivals. The 2.9 million arrivals figure do include all air arrivals and all visa travellers at Border Gates. “We believe that the real percentage of decrease is probably around 6% compared to 2015”, tells Mrs. Khin Than. From that new base, authorities believe that tourism is likely to pass again the three-million arrivals in 2017. The government recently decided to allow tourists with e-visa to enter the country through land borders’ checkpoints at Tachileik, Myawaddy and Kawthaung.

Is the slowdown in arrivals bad or good news for Myanmar tourism? “It is necessary to probably do a break after years of intense growth. It gives us time to rethink our strategy and fine tune policy to bring more quality than quantity travellers”, says one of the members of the Myanmar delegation at ATF.

For travellers, this could also be good news. The growing rise of tourists was followed by huge investments in the hospitality industry while many airlines added seats over the last five years. “We have now 31 air carriers flying to Myanmar including 8 just for Thailand for example”, indicates Khin Than Win.

Hotel capacity grew also tremendously between 2015 and 2016. In 2015, they were 1,279 hotels with a total room capacity of 49,946 units. A year later, Myanmar records 1,432 hotels with a total room capacity of 56,433. This represents a respective growth of 12.5% and 13% over the previous year. “More air seats and hotel rooms have helped lower prices. We cannot be anymore considered as an expensive destination compared to our neighbours”, stresses the Deputy Director.

Less tourists will help to better control the quality of facilities but also take some of the pressure in extremely popular tourist areas which start to experience a degraded environment such as around Lake Inlay and Bagan. “Our Minister is looking at pushing above all the sustainability of our tourism products and foster tourism development in a way to lift people out of poverty”, adds Khin Than. The Ministry designated 21 ecotourism sites all across the country where strict rules for development will apply.

A particular emphasis this year for destination’s promotion will be for the Myeik Archipelago (also called the Mergui Archipelago) with its pristine beaches and its unspoiled nature. Travellers will also be able to learn about the simple life of Salone or Moken people, South Myanmar sea gypsies.

Community-based tourism products will be promoted for Indawgyi Lake in Kachin State, Thandaunggyi in Kayin State, the observation of Ayyarwaddy Dolphins around Mandalay as well as Myaing Township in Magway Region, a mostly rural area. Many of these areas have been recognised at the ASEAN Community Based Tourism Award 2o17.