Myanmar’s transformation into a coming-of-age tourist hub seems to be set on course. An influx of visitors has made the tourism industry one of the fastest growing sectors in the emergent economy, sending income generated through tourism soaring by 70 per cent in 2012.
A positive signal that President Thein Seins’ barrage of reforms have created increased interest in the nation, revenues from tourism jumped to over $534 million in 2012, up from $315 million in 2011.
This growth in revenue was accompanied with a 54 per cent increase over the 810,000 visitors who arrived in 2011, Thurs Swiss, a Yangon-based consultancy, has reported.
The flood of visitors, however, has created some worry on the ground that Myanmar’s infrastructure remains inadequate due to decades of neglect and a lack of capacity.
The new foreign investment law that was instated in November 2012 is hoped to be the lifeblood of the industry, alluring foreign hoteliers into the country with increased incentives.
Some have begun to bite. A group of Singaporean investors led by George Yeo, vice-chairman of Wilmar Investment Holding, met with Myanmar Investment Commission chairperson Soe Thein in Nay Pyi Taw on January 11 to discuss investment in the three popular destinations in Myanmar which have been struggling against hotel room shortages.
According to official statistics, there are currently 28,291 hotel rooms in Myanmar. This figure is woefully short of the predicted increase in tourists over the coming years, and needs to improve in quality to address incoming foreign business travelers as well.
In 2012, travelers visiting Myanmar on business also saw high growth, surging by 63 per cent to 114,000, compared to 70,000 in 2011.
To address the economic potential of the industry, Myanmar has set a date for its first tourism conference. The objective of the Myanmar Hospitality & Tourism Conference 2013, to be held from February 26-28, 2013, is to provide background and perspective for potential hotel investors while positioning the country as a player with a big future in ASEAN tourism, according to Bangkok-based tourism magazine TTR Weekly.
Higher hopes abound in the tourism industry looking to the year ahead. “We expect the growth of tourism to further continue and forecast to receive 1.5 million tourist arrivals this year,” Myanmar Ministry of Hotels and Tourism director Khin Than Win told CNN, citing the new on-arrival visas as an additional reason for the rapid rise.
Improved financial infrastructure – namely the acceptance of Visa cards – will further boost the industry by alleviating the woes of visitors, who previously would have to bring their entire budget in cash.