Myanmar strives for more reforms to boost tourism

Despite the decline in tourist arrivals last year, Myanmar aims to rebound its tourism growth by undertaking reforms to improve both domestic and international travels, says a tourism boss.

Tint Thwin, director general at the Directorate of Hotels and Tourism, said in an interview the government now focuses on easing of some restrictions and creating new destinations to meet its target of welcoming 5 million tourists this year.

“We hope to achieve our target if more people come to know about our country and its beautiful destinations. We believe we will receive a large number of tourists in the last four months (from September to December),” he said.

“Even in the low season, we have seen a 10 per cent increase in international tourist arrivals and a 24 per cent increase in the number of visitors who entered through border gates last month, when compared to the same period last year.”

He said the ministry had undertaken relaxations on visa application, transforming of some border gates into international entry gates, and allowing more airlines to fly directly to Myanmar.

He added the new destinations would be created in Myeik of Tanintharyi Region, Kayah State and Chin State, as the ministry strongly believed the nation’s tourism industry would grow further in the years to come.

Negotiations with State and region governments are under way, and officials from ministry offices all over Myanmar are making efforts to make it happen, he said.

Statistics show a 23 per cent increase in tourist arrivals from April to July 2017, compared to the same period last year, bringing the total number of visitors to 1.06 million over the first four months of fiscal year 2017-18.

Last year, Myanmar received only 2.9 million tourists, declining from 4.6 million in 2015. Yet, the ministry claimed that it had excluded foreigners using the border gates and day trippers were not counted as tourists. It has changed the counting system to get more accurate data.

The official hinted Myanmar may allow home stay for foreigners in the near future. Currently, the nation does not allow foreigners to stay at locals’ houses according to its legal framework. But similar kind of stay is allowed at some villages to promote its community-based tourism (CBT) initiative.

“Even in CBT villages, we do not allow foreigners to stay at a house under the same roof together with locals. But we allow them to stay in separate buildings in the same compound where locals also live. It can therefore be assumed as a Burmese style home stay,” he said.

“We are fully aware that home stay is also practised in other countries. So we are negotiating with respective State and region governments to promote CBT in every province. We are also trying to enact some rules and regulations which will allow foreigners to stay at home in accordance with Myanmar customs and traditions.”

Community-based tourism was first introduced in Indawgyi Lake of Kachin State in 2013. To date, 11 rural areas in Myanmar have been designated as CBT villages.

Tint Thwin said the recent sectarian violence and tensions in Rakhine State could not deter Myanmar’s bright outlook to become a new destination in Asean. Yet, he admitted there could have some impacts due to news reports in international media outlets. Recently, the ministry noticed cancellation of bookings for Myauk U tours driven by visitors’ concerns.

The ministry recently announced Myanmar continues to be a very safe country for foreign tourists, and all tourist sites including sunny Ngapali beach and the ancient temple ruins of Mrauk U are safe to travel.

Source: Eleven Myanmar