Tourism insiders watching Thai crisis

Thailand’s political upheaval has so far had little effect on Myanmar tourism, but is worth watching closely given the country’s importance for the industry in Myanmar, insiders say.

Bangkok is by far the largest gateway for tourists arriving in Myanmar, but tourism has weathered past crises in Thailand and this one appears no different, said U Phyoe Wai Yar Zar, managing director of All Asia Exclusive Travel Company.

“So far it’s had no visible impact on Myanmar tourism,” he said.

Even the closure of Suvarnabhumi, the main Bangkok airport, by Yellow Shirt protestors in 2008 had minimal lasting impact on the Myanmar industry, he claimed. Thai officials also met with Myanmar travel industry representatives two days ago to pledge no disruptions to tourism, and Thai junta officials have recently relaxed curfews in popular beach resorts including Pattaya, Koh Samui, Phuket and Krabi in a bid to support the ailing industry.

Still, Thailand’s tourism players say the industry has been hard-hit by the political situation, with many pointing to empty hotel rooms and a slump in visitors.

“Hotels were dramatically hit,” said a manager at a luxury hotel in Bangkok whose occupancy rates have fallen below 30 percent, compared with above 70pc a year ago.

Thai bookings have suffered because of political unrest, and the government has lowered its forecast for tourist arrivals this year to 25.9 million, from an initial target of 28 million.

Tourists in Myanmar told The Myanmar Times that they were not put off by Thailand’s political instability, but were watching it closely.

Miriam, a German tourist, said she had been a little worried about her trip to Thailand and Myanmar, but came after viewing reassuring reports from German media.

“German media said it was not dangerous for tourists and that wouldn’t affect my trip,” she told The Myanmar Times.

Myanmar also stands to benefit from its relative stability, according to Union of Myanmar Travel Association vice president U That Lwin Toe.

With a Thai election at least a year away, Myanmar is a viable alternative, particularly as its connections with other airports in Qatar, Korea, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore increase, he said.

Chinese tourists are also increasingly coming to Myanmar, particularly as disputes in the South China Sea make some other Southeast Asian countries seem uninviting, he added.

U Phyoe Wai Yar War said that Singapore in particular is emerging as a secondary gateway to Myanmar, but added longer links with Europe and North America have been slow getting off the ground.

German carrier Condor and an Austrian airline had both tried direct flights with little success, he said.

Airlines are collecting their own survey data on the feasibility of direct flights, but Myanmar should also be active in collecting data to prove the routes can be profitable, he said.

U Phyoe Wai Yar War also said that Myanmar’s tourism industry has to work hard to remain in the limelight.

“Myanmar has been gaining the world’s attention, and I think that attention has begun waning,” he said, adding there are a number of campaigns and activities the sector can better promote to attract visitors.

Source: Myanmar Times

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