With int’l flights still on hold, Myanmar shifts focus to domestic tourism

With restrictions on international commercial flight arrivals to Myanmar possibly extended until October or later, the country will now adopt a domestic
tourism strategy.”Hotels and tourism businesses need to focus on the local tourism industry while arrivals of international commercial flights are still banned,” State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said during her address at the National Tourism Development Central Committee meeting (1/2020) on July 7.
In order to restart operations, she said the industry must find ways to expand domestically. She urged businesses to take efforts to improve the quality of local tourist destinations, saying this will help them prepare for and lure foreign travelers when restrictions are lifted.
This will involve adapting to local expectations and spending habits, she said. According to reports, foreign visitors spent more than US$2 billion in Myanmar during fiscal 2018-19.

“If you make preparations starting with the local travelers for the post-COVID-19 period starting now, you will be ready when foreign tourists [return],” she said, adding that Myanmar will also be competing with neighbouring countries for tourists when the world opens up further after the pandemic.
Banned until October?

Myanmar is shifting its focus to domestic tourism even as international commercial flights to Myanmar are expected to remain suspended up until the third quarter of this year, according to Vice President U Henry Van Thio during the July 7 meeting. The Vice President is also chair of the National Tourism Development Central Committee.International commercial flights to Myanmar have been suspended since March 31, a week after the first COVID-19 cases were reported in the country. The government has extended this ban several times since then, and international flights are officially prohibited until July 31.
“But now an extension to October is possible as the chair of the National Tourism Committee has said it,” U Phyo Zaw Wai, deputy chair of the committee, told the
Myanmar Times. U Phyo Zaw Wai said even after the restrictions are lifted, “foreign travelers will still have to adhere to quarantine and testing protocols so we need to focus more on domestic tourism.”

This comes on the back of the government’s COVID-19 Tourism Relief Plan launched last month to help troubled tourism operators navigate the aftermath of the
pandemic. Phase 1 of the plan, under which eligible businesses are given low-interest loans and other fee reductions to survive the slowdown, has already taken place.Phase 2 involves domestic businesses adopting the National Tourism Guidelines to ensure safety and enabling them to quickly resume operations, “as international airlines could be allowed only in the third quarter of this year,” U Henry Van Thio said.

He added that a plan to reopen the Myanmar tourism sector to ASEAN and other Asian countries, implement cross-border tourism with Laos and Cambodia and create
travel bubbles with Thailand and Vietnam will be launched in Phase 3, during the third quarter of this year. The travel bubbles will be expanded to Japan, South Korea,China, Hong Kong and Macau where COVID-19 is under control.

Travel bubbles involve exclusive partnerships between neighboring or nearby countries that have been successful in containing and combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
These countries then go on to re-establish connections between them by opening up borders and allowing people to travel freely within the zone without having the need to undergo on-arrival quarantine.

Still struggling

With the number of tourists having declined by 55 percent year-on-year between January and May, just 1200 or 60pc of the 2000-odd hotels in Myanmar are now
operating, and some local businesses are nevertheless bracing for tougher months ahead.
U Min Kyaw Oo, secretary general for the Myanmar Hotelier Association, added that many businesses and hotels that applied for the COVID-19 loans to pay salaries
have yet to receive funds due to onerous requirements.

According to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the loan requirements will be further eased to support hotel and tourism businesses. “We will review the loans for hotels and do what we can,” she said during a video conference on July 10. More loans can also be expected from a second K200 billion -K 500 billion COVID-19 fund before yearend. Meanwhile, some local airlines are struggling too. With international flights not allowed to land and not enough tourists, many are selling tickets at loss-making levels.

“We hope the tourism sector can restart soon. Domestic flights do not have many travelers and international routes are closed. We don’t know how long we can hold on without demand. Survival will depend on the efforts of each individual airline,” an official from a domestic airline said.
Yet, some airlines are already preparing for a recovery in tourism. “We do see a 20pc to 30pc drop in demand but we believe the travel and tourism space will adapt to the new normal. The travel space is expected to pick up once the travel restrictions imposed are removed or relaxed,” Tanes Kumar, Commercial Director of Myanmar Airways International (MAI), told the Myanmar Times last month.

MAI has already taken delivery of a second-hand Airbus A319 from Russia to be deployed on international routes. The addition takes MAI’s current fleet of Airbus
aircraft to four. Before the end of the year, the airline is expecting to take delivery of another four Airbus aircraft from the A320 family, said Mr Kumar.
MAI also has a fleet of eight ATR aircraft operated locally by its sister airline, Air KBZ. The airline will introduce four second-hand Embraer planes to its fleet by August, which it plans to deploy on domestic routes. There are plans to add another four Embraer aircraft to the fleet next year, taking MAI’s total fleet of aircraft to 24.

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Source : Myanmar Times

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