Tourism Ministry remains positive as visa restrictions eased

With the easing of some visa restrictions to attract more Western tourists to take effect on October 2019, Myanmar expects to receive more visitors this year, a senior official said.

Aung Aye Han, deputy director general at the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, said the authorities see a bright outlook for Myanmar’s tourism industry thanks to the efforts of key stakeholders.

We witnessed a 24 per cent increase in tourist arrivals in the first half of this year. So we hope to receive more in the second half,” he said.

As of May, Myanmar received 1.84 million visitors, up 24 per cent from the same period of last year. More than 3.55 million visited the nation last year.

“Our recent visa relaxation will take effect soon. Starting from October 1, visitors from Australia, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and Switzerland no longer need to apply for a visa in advance,” he said.

With the relaxation, Myanmar is allowing visa-free travel for visitors from 12 countries and the issuance of visas-on-arrival for those from 55 countries and territories.

Currently, Myanmar allows visa-free travel for 30 days for passport holders of Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Macau. The citizens of seven Asean countries – Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos and the Philippines – can stay for up to 14 days without any visa.

Myanmar recently added six more countries from the West to its list of countries whose citizens can obtain a visa on arrival. Now, citizens of all countries in Europe and Asean as well as those from wealthy nations like the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand no longer need to take the time to apply for a visa, said the official.

According to the Immigration Department, visitors arriving in Myanmar through three international airports – Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw – need to pay up to US$50, depending on the different types of visa they apply for. A 24-hour transit visa will cost $20, if the country of origin is included in the list of eligible countries.
Aung Aye Han said Myanmar may expand the list of visa exemption countries and the eligibility for visa-on-arrival next year, depending on the number of visitors from the targeted countries and the average spending during their stay.

“We have only three months left before the latest visa relaxation takes effect. So, we will wait and see on what the progress is before we decide to allow visa-related privileges for more countries,” he said.

In a bid to generate more revenue from tourism, Myanmar aims to attract more Western tourists while maintaining its “Look East” tourism policy, he said.

“On top of the visa relaxations, we now have high hopes for Bagan to be recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site very soon,” he said.

“Once we hear good news from [a UNESCO meeting in] Baku, we believe foreigners’ interest in Myanmar will significantly rise and our tourism sector will boom.”

The Ministry is also cooperating with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation to improve the standards of hotels in Myanmar.

“In terms of star ratings of hotels across the country, experts from UNWTO, Malaysia and Thailand have undertaken on-the-ground observations for nearly two weeks,” he said.

“They are now finalising their recommendations to improve our regulations in this regard. With their support, we will make sure our regulations are fully in line with international standards.”

The official foresees growth in the number of visitors to key tourist spots such as Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Ngapali and Inle in the months to come.

“We have a lot of new attractions in some parts of Myanmar. But at this point, it is hard to see them as tourism destinations for several reasons,” he said.

During the interview, he stressed the importance of four “As” in the establishment of a tourism destination – attraction, accessibility, accommodation and administration.

“Ours is a country of natural blessings, and we can easily find beautiful waterfalls here and there. But, some of them cannot be easily accessed because they are located in areas controlled by armed groups,” he said.
He gave the example of Gaw Yin Gyi Island, where there is no proper accommodation for foreign visitors yet. He believes a proper administration system should be in place there to attract tourists.

“Doubtless, it is one of the most beautiful islands in Asean. But it is a pity that we don’t have good accommodation and some emergency relief measures in place. So our key destinations will remain the same until the new attractions come up,” he said.

Source: Eleven Myanmar

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