Govt counting on Asian travellers to boost tourism

Myanmar’s tourism sector has borne the brunt of the Rakhine refugee crisis, with growth in tourist arrivals dropping to 1 percent in 2018 compared with 7.1pc in 2017, according to the World Bank. The number of western tourist arrivals fell the most, more than offsetting arrivals from Asia.

The numbers reflect reports of booking and tour cancellations by western tourists since late 2017, after news of violence in Rakhine was reported on a global scale, The World Bank said. Tourism accounts for 2.7pc of the country’s GDP.

Officials reckon the tourism industry will continue to come under pressure this year and for as long as the Rakhine crisis remains an issue.

“Tourist arrivals from the west are expected to continue experiencing low growth this year and cannot be counted on to boost the tourism sector,” U Khin Aung Htun, vice chair of the Myanmar Tourism Federation told The Myanmar Times.

U Kyaw Swa Min, managing director of Grand Lotus Tours Co is already bracing for another rough year. “Our company has been struggling because our target market is the West. The western tourism market will not be good this year, so we are restructuring our offerings for tourists from the east,” he said.

“Now is time to attract as many tourists from the east as fewer western travellers are coming,” U Kyaw Swa Min said.

Counting on the east

To offset the west’s impact on tourism, Myanmar has doubled up its efforts to capture the tourists from Asia.

Last year, the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population relaxed visa requirements for travellers from Japan, Macau, Hong Kong and South Korea. It now also offers visas on arrival to mainland Chinese and Indian tourists.

Due to the easing of visa requirements for travellers from those countries, tourism businesses are hoping to see a 50pc rise in visitors from eastern countries this year.

According to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, 3.2 million international visitors came to Myanmar between January and November last year, an increase of around 2pc compared with the same period in 2017.

Of the total number of visitors, 38pc came from China, 7 pc from Thailand, 6pc from South Korea, 4pc each from India and Malaysia and just over 1pc from Japan.

From January to November, 945, 022 Asian travellers visited the country, of which 261,896 were Thai and 259,592 were from China, according to government figures.

Meanwhile, travellers from other regions, especially from western and European countries, have declined and will not reach the target of four million the ministry had projected for this year.

“With the expected rise in the number of tourists from Asia, we hope to offset the decline in numbers from the west and see overall tourist numbers reaching 2016 levels. There will be an increase in travellers from ASEAN and Asian countries this year, especially China,” U Khin Zaw, adviser to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, told The Myanmar Times.

Uncertain outlook

While a rising number of Asian tourists may be able to offset the western decline, officials warn that tourism revenues are likely to fall anyway. That’s because western travellers typically stay in the country longer, for an average of 11 days compared to six for Asian travellers, according to the Myanmar Tourism Federation.

“Western travellers stay longer in the country and spend more money than Asian visitors. The spending power of one western traveller is equal to the income from three Asian travellers,” said U Khin Aung.

In addition, while Chinese tourists make up the bulk of Asian travellers to Myanmar, many arrive on all-inclusive package tours paid for in their home country. These packages are referred to as “zero-dollar tours” because little or no money is injected into the local economy.

“Chinese travellers on package tours come to Myanmar regularly to shop for gems and jewellery under arrangements made by their tour companies, but the government and tourism-related businesses do not see much income beyond the visa fee US$50 per person and whatever little they spend on what isn’t covered by their package tour,” U Kyaw Win, managing director of Cosmopolitan Travel Services Co told The Myanmar Times.

“Chinese travellers are expected increase up to 1.5 million in 2019 and 2020 but the government needs to think about what are the disadvantages and advantages of increasing Chinese tours,” U Khin Aung Htun said.

Meanwhile, the Asian tourists who do spend, mainly the Japanese, make up just a small portion of the total. The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism had expected a doubling in the number of tourists from Japan after the government relaxed their visa requirements on October 1, however the number has so far risen by just over 1pc at the end of November.

“Japanese travellers love to stay in good hotels and want quality services provided. There will be increased Japanese tourists if we can support their expectations,” U Khin Aung Htun said.

In the meantime, “we shouldn’t completely forget about the western market even though we are looking to the east to fill the gap. The government should relax visa requirements for some western and European countries such as Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Italy, as these are the tourists with the tendencies and capacities to spend,” U Khin Aung Htun added.


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