Bagan: to be or not to be a mass tourism destination?

Quality travelers, improved access and low season growth are highlights in C9 Hotelworks latest emerging market report over Bagan, one of the most promising destinations in Myanmar…

Myanmar’s Bagan with its ancient temples and pagodas remains one of Asia’s most treasured and authentic destinations. C9 Hotelworks newest report titled Bagan Myanmar Tourism Market Review highlights how rising gateway access from Mandalay has spurred growth both by air and road. Over the last five years, Bagan has seen foreign tourist arrivals progressing on average by 12% a year. In 2016, the destination welcomed 282,387 overseas visitors.

Looking at the geographic source of tourists, C9 Hotelworks sees clearly that the quality aspect of high-end travellers is creating demand, as the US, United Kingdom, Germany, France and Japan are prominent as the top five visitor markets. One clear trend demonstrated in C9’s research is the emergence of low-season travelers from within Asia and a rising domestic segments is creating higher levels of year round demand.

Interestingly, while they are no direct international flight to Bagan, the large majority of arrivals is still by air. C9 Hotelworks reveals that Nyaung U (Bagan) Airport is the main gateway generating 44% of all arrivals. The report emphasizes also a strong rise in arrivals by land (38% in 2016 compared to 24% in 2013). This is because Bagan is now easily accessible from Mandalay, which has the second busiest international airport in Myanmar with direct flights from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Kunming and Singapore.

For now, Bagan has little representation by overseas hotel groups. Smaller local groups dominate the landscape. There are currently 88 international standard tourism establishments operating with 2,960 keys. Some 59% of total keys are located in New Bagan, followed by Nyaung U (19%), Old Bagan (18%), and Popa (4%).

C9’s Managing Director Bill Barnett commenting on the accommodation market says “in the next 24 months will see 804 new rooms coming into supply but this is mainly from domestic investors. Clearly there is ample space for overseas investors in the hospitality space, given high room rates and stronger seasonal trading.”

While Bagan has established a sustained trajectory of growth over a sustained period, clearly the destination continues to be an object of desire for a new era of travellers. One important storyline is the government pushing new hotel development to the outer areas of the Archeological Zone.

Looking at the path forward, the question is whether Bagan will succumb to the temptation to go into the mass market as has Siem Reap, Hoi An and Luang Prabang. This could be the case as Myanmar authorities seek now to have the city being taken into UNESCO World Heritage List. Would then the city still manage to retain its small niche approach? “Only the future can tell”, estimates C9 Hotelworks.