Myanmar prepares for tourism boom

Myanmar prepares for tourism boom

NAY PYI TAW : Myanmar's government yesterday unveiled a seven-year tourism master plan worth US$500 million to help the country upgrade its competitiveness.

Simon Cooper (seated left) of Marriott International, Sonu Shivdasani (centre) of Soneva and Tony Fernandes of AirAsia at the World Economic Forum yesterday.

The plan, drawn up with the Asian Development Bank and Norway's government, also outlines 38 development projects including the protection of environmentally important areas and safeguarding ethnic communities.

"The plan outlines a path to welcoming more visitors to Myanmar without threatening our unique cultural heritage or endangering pristine environments," said Htay Aung, Myanmar's minister for hotels and tourism, at the World Economic Forum on East Asia.

"It is chiefly intended to utilise the growing tourism sector to improve the lives of local people."

Myanmar has set a high target of 3.01 million international visitors in 2015 and 7.48 million in 2020.

Based on this high-growth scenario, tourism revenue is projected to increase from a baseline of $524 million in 2012 to $10.18 billion in 2020, with tourism-related jobs rising from 293,700 to 1.49 million.

"Myanmar is becoming a very strong brand. What important is not what the country should do to grow given the growth is already here, but how the country should manage and sustain growth. This is a very critical stage, so many choices must be made carefully," said Simon Cooper, Asia-Pacific managing director of Marriott International.

Sonu Shivdasani, founder and chief executive of Thailand's Soneva, said the success story of Maldives tourism was worth looking at, particularly the importance of human capital.

"The growth in the Maldives in previous years is strongly supported by great management of people," he said.

"The combination of foreign workers with professional experience and local workers with traditional skills is very important. Keeping the sustainability dimensions in view, we would be able to grow while keeping low inflation."

AirAsia group chief executive Tony Fernandes said the budget carrier plans to launch international flight from Bangkok to Nay Pyi Taw in October.

"As the host of the 2013 South East Asia Games and the 2014 chair of Asean regional group, together with the coming AEC (Asean Economic Community), there will be an increasing demand for people to travel to Nay Pyi Taw. It is a very important step as AirAsia aims to provide links for the tourism industry in Asean," said Mr Fernandes.

He said AirAsia is strongly committed to the region and will concentrate on building human capital.

Aung said Myanmar needs to train people and develop accessibility and infrastructure.

"Tourists have already started to come in, but we do not have sufficient services for them. We have to set up a responsible tourism policy," he said.

"The government and hotel operators are working closely together to understand the positive and negative impacts of tourism. It is crucial for them to know what they should do if our customs and culture are to be preserved and respected."

As a result of sweeping political and economic reforms, Myanmar is enjoying unprecedented tourism growth. Between 2011 and 2012, visitor arrivals increased by 29.7% and, for the first time in its history, Myanmar received over 1 million international visitors.

The master plan, funded by Norway's government, recommends building tourism-related human resources by strengthening the tourism education and training system.

It identifies $44.5 million in new opportunities and partnerships aimed at training tourism workers.

"The master plan provides a leading tool for the government of Myanmar to develop the sector in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner," said Katja Nordgaard, the Norwegian ambassador to Myanmar.

"The implementation of the plan will demand strong government leadership and coordination among a wide range of government agencies and state and regional governments."

Projects focus on expanding international air arrivals in Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw, improving the Bagan River pier to support more cruises, and building feeder roads in destinations such as Ngapali Beach and Inle Lake.

The plan's goal is to maximise tourism's contribution to national employment and income generation while ensuring that the social and economic benefits are distributed equitably.

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