Thailand eyes Myeik archipelago as new investment destination

Thailand‘s tourism minister has made her first trip to Myeik archipelago to assess the opportunities for investment along the untouched coastline of Tanintharyi Region.

Myeik district, home to almost 700,000 people, mirrors the far more frequently visited shores of southern Thailand, along the opposite coastline of a narrow strip of land.

Officials from Thailand and Myanmar have been discussing improved cooperation in promoting tourism in the area, U Myo Win Than, director of Grand Andaman Islands Company and local representative for the Myanmar Tourism Federation, told The Myanmar Times.

Following the annual ASEAN tourism forum in the Philippines in late January, the two countries met in February to discuss marketing themselves as a single destination.

“When talking about Myanmar, we mentioned that the Mergui archipelago in Myeik district is very fresh and attractive with unspoilt destinations. Thai officials were very interested and asked for further discussions,” he said.

Thailand’s minister of tourism and sports, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, then visited Myeik with a private sector delegation to assess the opportunities for development, as part of a program called ASEAN connect.

“We want people from other parts of the world to visit ASEAN countries, and we would like to focus [the program] on Myanmar. We can use the strength of our two countries combined – Myanmar has many untouched destinations, and Thailand has connectivity and airlines,” she said in an exclusive interview in late February.

Thailand remains one of the top destinations for international visitors in Asia Pacific, despite a deadly bombing in Bangkok last year and a high-profile trial for the murder of a pair of British backpackers on a holiday island.

While Thailand’s economy has taken a hit over the past few years, tourism revenue has remained high, Ms Wattanavrangkul said. The industry contributed 16.6 percent to the country’s GDP last year, with earnings of 2.43 trillion baht (US$68.89 billion).

Of this, she said, 1.64 trillion baht came from 29.8 million international tourists, including 7.8 million from ASEAN countries.

Myeik meanwhile remains virtually untouched with just 11 hotels in operation offering 441 rooms. U Aung Aye Han, deputy director of the directorate of tourism, under Myanmar’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, said he would welcome Thai ventures in Tanintharyi. So far there is just one wholly foreign-owned investment in the area – the Pearl Laguna Resort, on 13 acres of land in Myeik township.

Myeik still has some way to go in developing connectivity, launching flight routes, building hotels and providing reliable electricity, the minister added. She believes opportunities to invest will develop as infrastructure improves.

“Electricity is a must. I have heard that [Thai state-owned oil and gas company] PTT is looking at investing somewhere around Myeik. Actually, we don’t intend to supply the energy, but [more stable electricity] is a requirement.”

Since last May, regular flights have run from Chiang Mai and Bangkok to Mandalay, Bagan and Nay Pyi Taw, she added, but much more remains to be done.

The Thai government can support tourism investment to a certain extent, if projects are innovative. “We think we can bring people and experience. We have made many mistakes which we don’t want Myanmar to repeat. We need to think long-term about the benefits of sharing, not only for the big cities but for the other towns.”

The tourism minister made headlines in late 2014, following the murder of two British backpackers on a Thai island, when she recommended that tourists should be issued with identification wristbands and that party hours on some islands should be limited.

For Ms Wattanavrangkul, while revenues from community-based tourism can be low, such projects are important. “If you bring too many people, you destroy the city or town and its culture. But with community projects, local people can lead and benefit from tourism income. This is wealth distribution,” she said.

Regulations and policy are often ineffective at protecting unspoilt destinations, and so community commitment to protect their land is crucial, Ms Wattanavrangkul said.

“We can make Myeik very popular. Then the land prices will go up. If you start selling your land, the people who buy it will definitely invest in something bigger. If you sell your home, investors will build a hotel. If you sell your hotel, they’ll build a bigger hotel. That’s when you find yourself in a mess.”


Source: Myanmar Times

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