SPECIAL ATF: Myanmar targets Unsustainable Growth in Tourism

Myanmar, trends, infrastructure

Kyaiktiyo Pagoda

With a target of welcoming 7.5 million foreign travellers by 2020, Myanmar is setting extremely ambitious objectives. Without thinking about the consequences in a country which still lacks infrastructure to accommodate visitors.

The slump of 2016 is over and Myanmar tourism is growing again. Year 2017 saw the country receiving 3.44 international visitors at international checkpoints, compared to 2.9 million a year before highlighted during ATF Mr. Hia Myint, Director of Tourism Promotion Department. The country is back on the growth track despite negative news which tarnished the country image last year, particularly around Rohingya population. “We did not see really a negative impact on arrivals. Even in a country like Malaysia, we registered a growth in inbound with a plus of 3.45%. I believe that visitors know how is the situation in reality”, declared Hia Myint.

Tourism good results were fed by a jump in Chinese and Thai arrivals. The first one grew by 15%, becoming the second largest source market with 212,645 travellers. “We see a large potential when we look at the number of Chinese travellers which now represent more than 100 million travellers a year. Just to have 1% of this number would be already a good achievement”, explained the representative of Myanmar Tourism Promotion Department.

Thailand visitors still remain the first source market for Myanmar until today. Last year, arrivals from neighbouring Thailand jumped by over 20% to reach 274,000 visitors. Japan, Korea and Singapore are also among the top five.

Yangon remains the largest entrance point into the country with a share of 33% (1.1 million travellers) followed by Mandalay airport with 157,000 arrivals (up by 13.5%). Border tourism generated however the largest number of movements, representing 2.08 million visitors into the country last year, a growth of 27.3% over 2016.

According to Hia Myint, the implementation of e-visa formalities produced good results. “We have already registered a million of travellers on e-visa”.

The target of Myanmar is very high: authorities believe that the country will be able to accommodate 7.5 million tourists by 2020, which basically is more than doubling today figures. Offering visa on arrivals facilities to more countries – Mr. Myint indicated that visa on arrivals could be given to France or the UK for example-, developing more flights towards China, fostering cruise tourism and promoting secondary tourism destinations could be the way to speed up tourism development.

Other positive news would be the inception of Bagan as a world heritage site and the developpment of infrastructure not only in Yangon or Mandalay but also in new destinations such as Bagan or the Myeik Archipelago in the South. “In Bagan, the government is now installing CIQ facilities. “They will be ready this year. We also study the runway expansion to be sure that we could welcome small aircraft, including charters”, explained Hia Myint.

More investment will however be necessary if Myanmar is really committed to see 7.5 million foreign tourists in just two years time. A huge effort of investment in hotels and infrastructure will be necessary. It is however far from assured that this will turn into a reality. “7.5 million visitors is only a target…” assured the Director of the Tourism Promotion Department.