RANGOON — More than half a dozen UN agencies are moving to new Rangoon offices, as their lease at two luxury hotels where they have been located for the last five years is due to end, UN officials said.
The well-known hotels, Traders and Inya Lake, decided not to extend the agencies’ lease in order to offer rooms to the growing number of high-end visitors to Burma, according to the officials.
“Some agencies have already found new places; some are in the process of finding new places… The ILO has already found new premises,” Aye Win, UN National Information Officer for Burma, said of the organizations located in Traders. “This has not happened overnight, they’ve been moving for quite a while.”
The World Health Organization, Unicef, UN Aids, the International Organization for Migration, the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking and the International Labor Organization (ILO) all had their Burma headquarters at Traders Hotel.
The World Food Program, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the UN Office for Project Services were located in Inya Lake Hotel.
Traders Hotel, located at the center of downtown Rangoon, offers rooms from US $200 per night, according to its website. Inya Lake Hotel’s room rate starts at $180 per night in the low season.
Trader Hotel is part of the Shangri-La Hotel group of Malaysian Chinese businessman Robert Kuok. Forbes magazine estimates Kuok’s fortune at almost $15 billion, making him the second-richest man in Southeast Asia.
Aye Win said the UN organizations moved into in Traders Hotel in 2007, when it had offered suitable office space at attractive rates. “At the time, there were a lot of unused hotel rooms,” he said, “Now it’s a different time, they’re singing a different tune.”
Burma is experiencing a surge in foreign visitors after President Thein Sein’s reformist government opened up the country to foreign businesses and tourists.
The country’s nascent tourism industry is struggling to cater to the growing number of visitors — which rose with a third to one million in 2012 — and hotel rates have more than doubled in the past year. The tourism boom is expected continue in coming years.
Due to these factors, Traders Hotel decided not to extend the UN and other development agencies’ lease in order to offer their rooms to visitors instead, Aye Win said.
Asked if UN agencies were struggling to find suitable offices in Rangoon’s booming real estate market, where prices have soared, he said, “They’ve overcome all that, they’ve crossed that bridge already.”
Steve Marshall, ILO Liaison Officer in Burma, said that Traders Hotel had informed all UN agencies in August last year that it would not extend their lease beyond 2013, adding that UN organizations at Inya Lake Hotel had also been asked to move.
“It’s not a matter of being thrown out, it’s a different commercial environment now,” he said.
The ILO had relocated to a new office in early May, Marshall said, adding that it had been meaning to do so for some time because the organization was expanding. “With the lifting of the restriction on our mandate, our organization and our role in the country got a lot bigger. We simply needed more space,” he said.