NAYPYIDAW — The Minister of Hotels and Tourism has said the government will continue to push for sharply raising the overall number of tourist figures to reach 4 to 5 million visitors this year, despite recent criticism of its tourism development approach and doubts over the accuracy of its visitors figures.
Minister Htay Aung said 3.08 million tourist figures were recorded in 2014, a number that his ministry hopes to raise 4.5-5 million this year by increasing overland visitor numbers, improving e-visa service for tourists, negotiating visa waiver agreements with other Asean countries, and the possible opening up of a Burma-China border crossing to visitors from third countries.
“In Myanmar last year we had 3.08 million visitors, but there are many categories of people [included in the figure]. What we count are mostly tourists by air, cruise ship and overland routes,” he said during an interview on the sidelines of the Asean Tourism Forum on Tuesday. “Overland routes have potential for tourist arrivals [growth] in the future.”
Htay Aung said 1.2 million of the 3.08 million visitors recorded last year were arrivals by air and cruise ship. Visitors from Thailand, China and Japan topped the arrivals list.
Following Burma’s opening up under President Thein Sein’s nominally-civilian government, tourism arrivals have risen sharply, according to the government, which says numbers rose from 800,000 in 2011 to 3.08 million last year.
The government has touted the growth as a measure of the success of its political and economic reforms, but questions have been raised about the accuracy of the figures and its tourism development approach.
Tourism experts told The Myanmar Times recently that Naypyidaw’s methods differ from international accepted definitions of tourist visits that are used by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Under the latter’s definition, only about 1.2 million of the government’s arrival numbers would be defined as tourists who stayed at least 24 hours in the country. Some 1.9 million of Naypyidaw’s registered visitors are in fact day-trippers from neighboring Thailand, India, China and Laos.
A Tourism Master plan 2013-2030, drafted by the Asian Development Bank, advised the government to aim for 2.2 million tourist visitors by 2015 and 5 million in 2020. The numbers were reportedly later revised upward on the government’s insistence to 3 million and 7.5 million, respectively, in an indication of the government’s eagerness to expand the sector.
Htay Aung did not directly answer questions about the accuracy of tourist arrival figures, but told a press conference in Naypyidaw that “in the very near future we will be working with the UNWTO on specific research methodologies” for tourism figures.
Aung Myat Kyaw, the chairman of Union of Myanmar Travel Association, said the government should ensure that its arrival figures are in line with international definitions so that the tourism industry can improve its growth strategies. “Nobody has the accurate numbers,” he said.
Burma’s tourism growth is being hampered by problems such as a lack of quality hotels and guesthouses, high room rates, poor transport and communications infrastructure, and an underdeveloped domestic air industry with a poor safety record.