Tourism Chief: ‘Interest in Our Country Has Grown’

By May Soe San 23 November 2015

On the back of the Nov. 8 elections, tour operators say there has been a surge the number of foreign tourists considering a trip to Burma. Phyo Wai Yarzar, the chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Marketing Committee, recently sat down with The Irrawaddy to talk about the current state of the tourism industry in the aftermath of the poll.

What potential do you see in the tourism market now the election is over?

Before the election, potential tourists were concerned that their visit might coincide with the election and that they might encounter an uprising. But there was not even an uprising during the 2010 election. And there was no problem this time, either. There was no confrontation between the ruling party and the opposition, even in the run-up to the election. This has set the best example.

We learned that some foreign ministries issued warnings to their citizens not to visit our country in the two weeks before and after the election. But the fact that there was no violence or rioting has made international headlines. The news about the election and the decisive victory of the opposition has spread to countries around the world. This is good news for us. Because this is the news that Western democratic countries want to hear. Their interest in our country has grown. This bodes well for the potential of tourism, and I think the tourism industry will see progress soon.

The hotels and tourism industry expects to draw about five million foreign visitors this year, but there are also predictions that it might fall short of this target. What do you think?

The hotels and tourism minister [Htay Aung] said at a ceremony a couple of days ago that Myanmar had received 3.9 million foreign visitors by the end of October, including arrivals through airports and border gates. So I think the target is achievable.

Which countries do you think will drive a rise in Burma’s tourism arrivals?

It is difficult to say. It does not depend on our country alone, but also on the visitor countries. They will travel only when they have extra cash.

Previously, the UK market did not usually sell trips to Myanmar during its tourism fair, usually held in November, but this year they have been keenly selling trips to Myanmar. So I think we can expect a good increase in UK visitors to Myanmar. But we need to do more to attract EU countries. We need to get information about what might arouse their interest in Myanmar.

The tourism market has opened up here and the government has started to provide assistance. It is important that the next government continues to give assistance. Being new, the next government will need to do some public relations work. I would suggest that rather than spending large sums on public relations, the new government promote tourism instead. If more tourists come and they subsequently recount their experiences, foreign countries will have greater trust [in the new government].

How much revenue has the tourism industry generated in Burma this year?

We do not know exactly. The private sector does not know. It is difficult to get those figures. The World Trade Organization (WTO) carried out tourism satellite accounting in Myanmar, but it might take time for the government and the private sector to carry this out. We can’t accurately calculate the revenue generated from the tourism industry using GDP. I am afraid that the current financial system in Myanmar can’t precisely calculate the revenue of tourism-related businesses such as tour companies, tour guides, and souvenir shops. However, the president said that the tourism industry generated US$3 billion last year. I think it might increase this year.

Where do you plan to develop new tourism sites in Burma?

I don’t think we need to develop new sites in the country. But there is a three-year tourism development project being carried out in Karenni State.