Burma Designated 2014 ‘World Best Tourist Destination’ by EU Body

By San Yamin Aung 10 March 2014

RANGOON — The European Council on Tourism and Trade will hand Burma the “World Best Tourist Destination Award” for 2014, one of the highest accolades in the global travel and tourism industry, according to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.

“This award will draw more tourists to our country,” Aung Zaw Win, director general of the ministry, told The Irrawaddy on Monday, adding that tourism was one of the country’s most promising industries at present.

The European Council on Tourism and Trade, which draws its members from 27 nations of the European Union, has been awarding the honor annually since 2007. Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates (twice winner), South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, and Laos are all past recipients of the World Best Tourist Destination Award, according to the ECTT website.

The award goes to “countries that are embracing tourism as a resource for cultural and social development, who respect ethics of human relations and preserve cultural and natural heritage. As the receivers, cities and countries must prove their commitment towards sustainable development, fair tourism and historical preservation,” the ECTT website states.

“All types of tourism are available in Myanmar,” Aung Zaw Win said. “We can offer marine tourism, cultural tourism, ecotourism, community tourism, trekking, other things and also snow-capped mountains.”

The director general said that having drawn 2.04 million tourists to Burma last year, the government is planning for 3 million foreign arrivals this year.

“The tourist numbers visiting Burma in 2013 increased by 93 percent over 2012. There is no comparably sharp rise anywhere in the world tourism industry,” he said, adding that the past two months had seen 487,000 tourist arrivals to Burma.

“The title should act as a booster for tourism” to the winner of the award, which must be a non-European country, the ECTT website says.

A letter sent by the European Union Council to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism said Burma would also be declared its 2014 “Favorite Cultural Destination,” according to Burma’s state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

“I hope that more tourists will visit our country with the presentation of the World Best Tourist Destination for 2014,” said Theingi, director of Exotic Myanmar Travels & Tours Company.

She added that more experienced guides, restaurants, hotels and airline linkages would be needed to accommodate what an expected boom in tourism over the coming years.

Aung Zaw Win of the Hotels and Tourism Ministry said that currently, there are more than 1,300 licensed tour companies in Burma, and more than 20 domestic and foreign airlines fly routes into Burma. Accommodation is increasing by about 6,000 hotel rooms each year, he added.

The country’s tourism industry is widely considered to be underdeveloped, and travel to Burma has been a politically sensitive issue for more than two decades. Long-time democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi for many years discouraged foreigners from visiting the country, saying their money would only go toward enriching the ruling military junta and its crony business allies who largely monopolized the industry.

With the country’s transition to nominally civilian rule in 2011, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party has since signaled it “would welcome visitors who are keen to promote the welfare of the common people and the conservation of the environment and to acquire an insight into the cultural, political and social life of the country while enjoying a happy and fulfilling holiday in Burma.”