Hotelier Uses Ties to Myanmar Junta Chief to Build Hospitality Empire
By The Irrawaddy 16 December 2021
Amazing Hotels & Resorts Group has emerged as the most successful hotelier in Myanmar’s hospitality industry since coup leader Min Aung Hlaing became the military chief in 2011.
The group was founded by U Aung Myo Min Din, a tour operator and hotelier who is the current chairman of the Myanmar Hotelier Association.
When he was in high school, U Aung Myo Min Din was a student of Min Aung Hlaing’s wife, Daw Kyu Kyu Hla, who was a teacher at the time. Business sources told The Irrawaddy that U Aung Myo Min Din is a favorite with Min Aung Hlaing’s family because he is polite and hard-working.
“It was U Aung Myo Min Din who brought Ko Aung Pyae Sone, the son of the military chief, into the hospitality industry,” a Yangon-based businessman told The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity. The Azura Beach Resort at Chaungtha Beach in Ayeyarwady Region is owned by Aung Pyae Sone.
Before 2010, U Aung Myo Min Din reportedly operated a tour company, Adventure Myanmar Travel, and four hotels including the Hotel Amazing Kaytu in Bago’s Taungoo.
Over the next seven years his business grew to encompass 12 “Amazing”-branded hotels and resorts, an unusually rapid expansion for Myanmar, where it is extremely difficult to obtain bank loans and raise capital. The multimillion-dollar premier hotels are located in the country’s most popular destinations including the commercial capital Yangon, as well as Mandalay and on a number of beaches.
Amazing Hotels & Resorts Group says it is currently building a new hotel with more than 300 rooms and a luxury residence with 87 apartments in Yangon, as well as expanding its resorts at Shan State’s Inle Lake and Rakhine State’s Ngapali Beach.
“Every businessman knows from whom large sums of capital can be obtained, and who can help expand one’s business in a short time in Myanmar,” said a tour operator.
Myanmar’s tourism and hospitality industry boomed between 2011 and 2019 following the introduction of reforms in the country. However, no other tour operator or hotelier was able to match the hundreds of millions of US dollars that U Aung Myo Min Din was able to invest in just five or six years during that period, said the tour operator, who has been in the business for more than two decades.
Among the 12 hotels that U Aung Myo Min Din has added to his hotel chain since 2010 is the Amazing Ngapali Resort, a property built on controversial land in the popular Rakhine State seaside destination.
The land was seized by Myanmar’s military in 2000, supposedly to be used for the expansion of a compound occupied by a local military unit. However, the military compound was never built and from around 2013 the land was leased for hotel construction to a number of companies including Max Myanmar Co. owned by military crony U Zaw Zaw. U Aung Myo Min Din bought the hotel, which was still under construction, from U Zaw Zaw in 2015, and rebranded it as the Amazing Ngapali Resort.
When asked about it by The Irrawaddy, U Aung Myo Min Din firmly denied receiving any support for his business from Min Aung Hlaing’s family. He also denied being close to the coup leader’s family.
“It is 100 percent untrue that [Min Aung Hlaing’s family] is financially backing [my company] from behind the scenes. I made bids when they [the government] invited tenders, and I received contracts only when I submitted the winning tenders. There were many occasions when my tender lost,” he said.
He said his hotel group is fully owned by him, and financed by his own profits and bank loans, which he said he secured by presenting contracts.
Because of the recent economic downturn, U Aung Myo Min Din said, he currently owes 28 billion kyats (US$15.75 million) to two local private banks, CB Bank and AYA Bank.
When asked about his ties to the coup leader’s son U Aung Pyae Sone, he said, “Frankly speaking, I haven’t spent much time with him.”
Though the land in the Ngapali Hotel Zone is said to be military property, ownership is in fact shared between a number of military top brass including former dictator Than Shwe, former military spy chief Khin Nyunt and the family of late dictator Ne Win. They lease the land and related permits to their cronies.
Another military-linked property for which U Aung Myo Min Din has acquired a long-term lease is the Kengtung Hotel.
The hotel sits on the site of Kengtung Palace, which was built by Sao Kawn Kiao Intaleng, the 40th saopha (hereditary chief) of Kengtung, and completed in 1906. The palace was seized by the Myanmar military during its 1962 coup, and used as a government office until its demolition in 1991 to make way for hotel construction. Over the years the hotel occasionally changed hands, but only between those with ties to the military’s top generals. In 2015 it was taken over by U Aung Myo Min Din, who rebranded it as the Amazing Keng Tong Resort.
Despite U Aung Myo Min Din’s denials, he has clearly obtained concessions beyond what is available to ordinary businessmen.
When Min Aung Hlaing’s relatives, including his wife Kyu Kyu Hla, travel, they usually stay at Amazing hotels, sources told The Irrawaddy—something U Aung Myo Min Din does not deny.
“We are businesspeople. Under the previous government, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited Bagan and she stayed at my hotel. When President U Thein Sein visited Kengtung [he stayed at my hotel]. The same year, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi came to Kengtung and she also stayed at my hotel. As we run a hotel, we have to accept anyone who comes to stay at our property,” U Aung Myo Min Din said.
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