|Myin-khwa Island, Myeik Archipelago
MYANMAR has long been known as a destination where travellers
can explore and experience the mystical charms of Asia in all
The well-known 19th century English writer, Rudyard Kipling,
once wrote, “This is Burma [former name for Myanmar], and
it will be quite unlike any land you know.”
Myanmar is unlike any other land in the sense that it is a country
where a traveller can, in a single stop, see and experience rich
archaeological sites, glittering pagodas, a wealth of diverse
cultures, and colourful festivals and creative arts.
The tourism industry has been growing steadily since 1988, when
the government lifted restrictive limits on the length of stay
for international travelers.
Officials and private tours operators have predicted that Myanmar
is heading for another excellent tourist season, after achieving
a record 22 per cent rise in the number of tourist arrivals during
the 2003-2004 season over the previous year.
The 2003-2004 high season – from September to April –
was a “milestone” for the tourism industry in Myanmar,
said a statement from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, made
available to Myanmar Times on September 20.
The statement said early projections for the coming high season
were bright as about 260,000 tourists visited Myanmar during the
summer and rainy seasons – between April and September –
which represents a 40 per cent increase over the number who came
during the same period last year.
However, there are limits to the number of tourists who can
be accommodated in Myanmar.
“There were even shortages of hotels and flights during
the last high season,” the statement said.
Last season was also significant in terms of the earnings generated
from the industry, with the total income reaching US$150 million,
the statement said.
It said last season’s growth came after an increase in
the volume of air traffic to Myanmar, the introduction of an internet
visa application system, and the relaxation of the visa application
procedure for tourists travelling on package tours. The statement
said last season’s numbers were also boosted by better organisation
among Myanmar tour operators.
“It has given Myanmar a better image,” it said.
It said Myanmar would not rush to ease travel requirements anytime
soon, in order to protect the country from the negative impacts
from tourism, including possible detrimental effects on Myanmar’s
The statement said although it may seem logical to allow tourists
to apply for a visa upon arrival at Myanmar’s international
airports in Yangon and Mandalay, the government would only embrace
such a system ‘gradually’.
“However, as we are competing with other countries in
the international business arena, the granting of visas-on-arrival
will one day be a reality,” the statement said.
It said in 2003 the government introduced a system to issue
visas-on-arrival at Yangon international airport for package tour
The statement said that 11 per cent of the 600,000 tourists
who visited Myanmar last season were travelling on package tours.
It also said the number of visitors from neighbouring Thailand
has been increasing during the past few years, topping the list
of travellers to Myanmar last season, the statement said without
mentioning specific numbers.
“Last year the number of Thai visitors to the country
surpassed those from Taiwan and Japan,” the statement said.
The ministry statement said Myanmar businesses should work to
create an environment convenient for Thai tourists.
“This issue should be considered before Thai business
operators begin to establish Thai-style restaurants, and hotels
[in Myanmar] for Thai tourists,” the statement said.
An advisor to the Hotels and Tourism minister, U Khin Maung
Latt, echoed the statement’s assessment by saying tourism
prospects were bright for the upcoming high season.
He said the ministry expects about 1 million tourists to visit
Myanmar during the coming season, including about 700,000 travellers
from China and Thailand, through the border checkpoints between
Myanmar and the two countries.
U Khin Maung Latt said the government will continue to place
emphasis on the development of the tourism industry, from which
more than 80 per cent of the income goes to the private sector.
“Tourism directly benefits the private sector,”
In an interview with Myanmar Times last month, a member of the
private-sector Myanmar Tourism Promotion Board, Dr Aung Myat Kyaw,
welcomed the government’s moves to develop the industry.
He said the government’s measures have included allowing
more international airlines to fly into Myanmar.
“More airlines mean more tourists,” he said.
Dr Aung Myat Kyaw, who also operates Orchestra Travel Agency,
added that a total of 14 international airlines fly into Myanmar’s
two international airports.
He also said Qatar Airways is expected to start scheduled flights
to Yangon from Qatar’s capital, Doha, in January, while
the same month will see the addition of flights from Rome to Yangon
via the Italian airline, Blue Panorama.
He said the two airlines will help to increase the number of
tourists visiting from the Middle East and the Europe.
Further relaxation of the visa application procedures would
also greatly increase tourism to Myanmar, Dr Aung Myat Kyaw said.
“If we can just say to the world that we are issuing visas-on-arrival,
it will completely change things,” he said.
However, he cautioned that the country’s current tourism
infrastructure would not be able to accommodate a large influx
of additional tourists.
Dr Aung Myat Kyaw said tour operators faced difficulties arranging
hotels for tourists during the high season.
“This is because people only visit in the winter,”
he said, adding that efforts should be made to increase awareness
that some parts of Myanmar can be visited during the summer and
He said better facilities for tourists – including air-conditioned
buses and hotel rooms – have made it possible to provide
better services for people travelling during the hot season.
He said favorable regional conditions can also contribute to
the growth of the tourism industry in Myanmar.
“Luckily, we have not heard exaggerated news on SARS [Severe
Acute Respiratory Syndrome] or bird flu, as we did last year.
That is one of the reasons why I am optimistic about this year,”
Dr Aung Myat Kyaw said.
He said more airline seats and hotels will become available
if the number of tourist arrivals increases, and that Myanmar
should prepare itself for the future by using advertising to promote
the country as a travel destination, a strategy that it has so
far failed to use effectively.
“We have to create a product and make people aware of
it,” Dr Aung Myat Kyaw said.
“This is because [the Myanmar Tourism Promotion Board]
does not have a huge advertising budget like tourism promotion
boards in other countries do,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Union of Myanmar Travel Association –
a private association of tour operators – said the group
was planning raise about K5 million from its members this year
to use for an advertising campaign to promote Myanmar.
The spokesperson also said its campaign and other promotion
activities could help increase the number of tourists by about
15 per cent this year.
The spokesperson said the association is also planning to expand
cooperation with its regional counterparts to seek help in training
Myanmar tour operators, but the details of the plan have yet to
be worked out.