RANGOON — Burma welcomed 4.68 million tourists in 2015, according to figures from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, another sizeable annual uptick representing a 52 percent increase on the previous year.
Tourist arrivals have surged since a quasi-civilian government took power under President Thein Sein, with the number of arrivals climbing from 800,000 in 2011 to 3.08 million in 2014, according to official statistics.
The ministry had previously stated a goal of between 4.5 to 5 million tourists in 2015.
However, industry observers have routinely questioned the government’s figures, which tally arrivals of all foreign passport holders at land and air entry points. The majority of travellers to Burma cross overland from Thailand through checkpoints in Tachileik, Shan State and Karen State’s Myawaddy, many on business.
According to an article in the state-run New Light of Myanmar on Monday, more than 800,000 tourists entered by air or ship in 2015.
For arrivals by air, Thai travellers accounted for over 200,000 tourist arrivals, followed by Chinese and Japanese nationals, according to Myo Win Nyunt, a director in the regulation department within the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.
“We think our tourism sector is successful,” he told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday. “We have nearly reached the expected figure of 5 million. More hotels are now opening and our government also encourages the tourism sector.”
Thadoe Thuzar Aung, general secretary of the Union of Myanmar Travel Association (UMTA) and the managing director of Authentic Myanmar Travel & Tours, said she hoped the incoming government and industry stakeholders could cooperate for the benefit of the sector.
“The tourism industry is a business that can feed all people in the country,” she told The Irrawaddy.
“But it’s changing every day and we need to act on it. We need active stakeholders who can actually advise government and make checks and balances work effectively.”
According to the tourism ministry, there are currently just under 1,300 hotels around the country.
The ministry claimed that the sector generated US$1.78 billion in revenue in 2014. No data on revenue from the sector for last year has yet been released.
Under new immigration regulations, 12 types of single-entry visa and three types of multiple-entry visa have been made available, as of Jan. 11.