Tourist Numbers Hit 3m in 2014: President

By San Yamin Aung 2 January 2015

RANGOON — Business is booming in the tourism sector, President Thein Sein said in his monthly radio address on Thursday, announcing that Burma received more than 3 million visitors and raked in US$3 billion last year.

Thein Sein said that “more than 3 million tourists visited the country within 2014,” slightly exceeding annual predictions by industry experts and the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.

The estimated $3 billion income caught some observers by surprise: Burma earned about $926 million in 2013 and only $534 million in 2012, according to ministry statistics. A ministry representative, Aung Zaw Win, told The Irrawaddy that the number reflects a broad range of financial benefits beyond direct profits.

“The 3 billion includes direct, indirect and induced effects of tourism,” said Aung Zaw Win, who serves as the director general of the Directorate of Hotels and Tourism under the ministry.

The new statistics also indicate a 50 percent increase in the number of visitors over the past year, up from 2.04 million in 2013. Aung Zaw Win said the ministry’s goal of hitting the 3 million mark was surpassed just before the year’s end.

“The number of tourists reached our prediction in the third week of December,” he said. “We are now calculating to get the [exact] total of tourists for last year.”

The ministry has stated a goal of receiving as many as 7.4 million tourists in the year 2020, as part of the government’s Tourism Master Plan released in June, 2013. Aung Zaw Win said the directorate is working with private sector actors to develop the infrastructure, accommodation and services necessary to reach the goal.

Phyo Wai Yar Zar, chairman of Myanmar Tourism Marketing and joint secretary of the Myanmar Tourism Federation, said the new statistics show that Burma is ahead of schedule in terms of sector growth.

“If the growth keeps going at the rate it is now, visitor numbers can reach 7 million before 2020,” he predicted, adding that stakeholders should keep a “positive outlook” regardless of whether the growth rate maintains its current velocity.

The ministry has committed to expanding tourism development into several remote and pristine areas that were long beyond the reach of travelers. Destinations in Chin and Shan states, Tenasserim Division and the ancient cities of Pyu—which recently became Burma’s first entry on the Unesco list of world heritage sites—are being targeted for development under the direction of their respective regional governments, Aung Zaw Win said.

In addition to lengthening the list of destinations, he added that the ministry has prioritized capacity building and service industry training. An Asean Tourism Forum will be hosted in Naypyidaw in late January, which will unite regional industry players for skill-sharing and professional training.

The total number of visitors to Burma rose sharply after power was transferred from the military to a nominally civilian government in 2011, surpassing 1 million for the first time in 2012. The industry suffered during the junta years partly as a result of a tourism boycott designed to avoid funding the oppressive regime.

In early October, the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism announced that 2016 would be designated as “Visit Myanmar Year,” in an attempt to revamp the tourism sector amid chronic complaints of accommodation shortages and weak infrastructure for communications and transit. A similar campaign was launched in 1996.