YANGON—Chinese arrivals in Myanmar increased by 38 percent last year compared to 2017, and topped the list of travelers to Myanmar, deputy director-general of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, Daw Khin Than Win, told The Irrawaddy.
The increase is attributable to the issuing of a visa-on-arrival for Chinese passport holders, she said.
On Oct. 1 last year, the Myanmar government launched a one-year pilot project that grants visa exemptions to travelers from Japan, South Korea, Macao and Hong Kong, and issues on-arrival visas for Chinese travelers at a cost of $50.
The number of travelers from other Asian countries also increased as a result, said Daw Khin Than Win.
Myanmar received a total of 3.55 million foreign travelers in 2018, a sharp increase from 3.44 million in 2017, she said.
In 2018, Myanmar received 297,400 Chinese travelers through airports and sea ports. It was followed by Thailand with 291,231, and Japan with just 104,376 visitors. These figures do not include travelers who came into Myanmar through the land borders with border passes.
Meanwhile, the Union of Myanmar Travel Association reported a 50 percent decline in the number of travelers from western countries in 2018 compared to previous years primarily due to the Rakhine crisis.
Some local tour companies have been struggling due to the decline, said joint secretary of the association U Thet Khaing.
The government should take measures to attract more western travelers, he said. We have asked [the government] to relax regulations on western travelers,” he told The Irrawaddy.
“The Asian market is growing. Many Chinese people go on foreign trips today. Some European countries are even carrying out promotions targeting Chinese travelers. We should also try,” he said.
Some companies can only cater for English-speaking travelers, and find it hard to serve Chinese customers. “It is not a problem for big tour companies, but it is difficult for smaller ones to hire Chinese-speaking guides,” he added.
Despite the increase in the number of Asian tourists, tour companies have reported a decline in revenues.
“Travelers from Europe tend to stay two to three weeks in Myanmar, while Asian travelers only stay a maximum of one week. Their spending power is different. That’s why there is a sharp decline in revenues,” he said.
“Asian travelers visit fewer places and spend less than those from western countries, so those engaged in tourism businesses do not earn as much as they did,” said Daw Thandar Oo, a tour guide of 20 years.
However, she is optimistic that Myanmar will be able to win western travelers back if tour operators can develop more diverse packages which include activities like hiking, camping, homestays and so on in addition to the existing cultural tours to pagodas and temples, which Myanmar has marketed over the past 25 years.
The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism expects to receive 4.5 million foreign travelers in 2019. There are around 2,500 tour operators, big and small, in operation in Myanmar, and around 10 percent of them did not renew their licenses in 2018.