There are high hopes for Burma’s tourism industry, and—with a doubling in foreign arrivals over the last two years—rightfully so. The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism expects tourist arrivals to reach 3 million in 2014 and has set an ambitious target to increase that figure to 7 million by 2020.
With the industry’s prospects never brighter, The Irrawaddy recently spoke with Minister of Hotels and Tourism Htay Aung following a tourism conference held in Rangoon, where the minister discussed future plans for the sector, challenges to their implementation, and what role foreign companies might play in the industry.
Question: Which countries are interested in investing in Burma’s growing tourism industry?
Answer: There are many foreign companies that are speaking with us about investing here, and we expect that more companies will be here soon. Recently, the [US company] Hilton Hotels Group started working with Centrepoint Towers, [France-based] Accor is working with Max Myanmar Company now. [US-based] Best Western is working with the Green Hill Hotel. So many foreign companies are interested to invest here.
Q: Homestays remain illegal in Burma. Is this something your ministry is considering changing?
A: Homestays are only allowed in remote places far from urban areas. We have to allow homestays in those areas. For example, Putao in Kachin State, and other trekking areas. Visitors can negotiate with local authorities if they have to stay in local homes.
Q: Do you have a prediction for international tourist arrivals in Burma for next year?
A: We predict that [arrivals] will reach more than 4 million in 2015. Myanmar has the potential to receive many more foreign visitors soon because our country is not a landlocked country—we have more than 1,300 miles of coastline. We have a lot of tourist destinations in Myanmar. The main thing is we need tourists to stay for longer periods and to visit many destinations. And also we have to try to get them to spend more money. This will benefit the country.
Q: How does your ministry plan to help raise the quality and standards of the domestic industry?
A: This is a human industry, a service industry. Human resources development is quite important. We’re training within the ministry, and also encouraging tourism [hospitality] schools. Some of them are working with foreign groups to provide better services. We have an Asean standard policy for them. We have an Asean standard curriculum for the schools, and we’re encouraging them to catch up to that standard.
There are a lot of foreign institutions and donor countries to help this sector develop. We have a tourism master plan. We’re working to raise the standard by encouraging local groups not only in urban areas, but also in remote destinations. We will increase those activities in such areas beginning this year in April.
Q: What are the emerging tourist destinations in Burma?
A: Most tourists have gone to Bagan, Inle Lake, Mandalay and Ngapali beach in Arakan State in recent years. Now tourism is expanding to Chaung Tha and Ngwe Saung beaches [in Irrawaddy Division], Sittwe and Mrauk-U [in Arakan State], and Nat Ma Taung in Chin State. At the moment, we’re trying to expand to destinations in northern Myanmar, like Putao, [Kachin State], and in the southern part of Myanmar, the Mergui Archipelago. These are developing.
Q: How much revenue did the country take in from the hotels and tourism sector last year?
A: Nationally, we earned US$940 million from 2.04 million visitors. Of that amount, 12 percent was earned by [enterprises that fall under] ministerial departments. We expect that revenue will reach more than $1 billion this year.