International airlines as well as local travel and hospitality providers are ramping up operations in anticipation of an influx of foreign visitors to Burma during the winter peak tourist season.
New airlines are planning routes into Burma’s big cities while existing carriers—including Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, AirAsia, Myanmar Airways International (MAI), Malaysia Airlines, SilkAir and Jetstar Airways—are increasing their services.
“New international airlines will seek to fly directly to Mandalay Airport but the hotel room booking capacity and size of the airport is not sufficient for such a large number of tourists,” a spokesperson for the High International Standard Travel and Tours (HIS) told The Irrawaddy.
“They will start by renovating two airports—Rangoon and Mandalay—and later they will also extend Bagan and Naypyidaw once the infrastructure of the first airports has been finished.”
In 2011, Burma officially welcomed 391,000 international visitors—an increase of almost 26 percent from the previous year. However, much of that figure includes businesspeople and cross-border visitors.
The true number of tourists is probably closer to 25,000, say independent analysts, which is a far cry from countries such as neighboring Thailand, which boasts figures of between 11 and 15 million tourists every year.
However, political reforms initiated since President Thein Sein came to power last year—including democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi being elected to Parliament—and the subsequent easing of international trade sanctions have seen the country become a new tourism hotspot. Burma was ranked second in the Lonely Planet list of top countries to visit in 2012.
Around 90,000 Thai tourists are expected to visit Burma this year, according to the Kasikorn Research Center. The figure is a 30 percent rise on 2011 and Thai tourists are expected to spend around US $40,000,000 in their western neighbor.
Thailand will provide around 18 percent of the forecasted 500,000 foreign tourists to arrive in Burma in 2012. Kasikorn predicts the top five visitor countries to Burma to be China, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.
All Nippon Airways (ANA), Korean Air, Eva and Qatar Airways will start services in time for the peak tourist season which lasts from early October to the end of April.
“Korean Air will fly Boeing A380s two times for a week as well as ANA too. But ANA’s flights will include only 48 business seats without economy class,” said the HIS spokesperson.
In the last week of July, domestic airlines announced a hike in flight prices of nearly ten percent for the coming high season—a rise of nearly 30 percent compared with the same time last year. Rangoon-Mandalay flights will cost US $128 one way, Rangoon-Heho/Nyaung Oo will cost $120 and Rangoon-Myitkyina will cost $200 from Oct. 1.
The Ministry of Immigration officially announced the rollout of visas-on-arrival at Mandalay and Naypyidaw airports from October after resuming the service for business and transit passengers arriving in Rangoon from June 1.
A 24-hour transit visa currently costs $20, a visa for meetings and conferences lasts 28 days at $40 and business visas last 70 days for $70.
Starting from Oct. 1, domestic carrier MAI will start flying to Seoul, Hong Kong and Laos in addition to its current international connections with Singapore, Gaya in India and Guangzhou in southern China.