Singapore Looks to Bring Burma Closer Through Tourism

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 26 January 2016

RANGOON — Given the rising number of Burmese travelers to Singapore, the city-state is looking to tourism to strengthen its relationship with the former pariah state.

According to figures from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), there were more than 112,000 Burmese visitors to Singapore in 2014, while the number of Burmese leisure visitors to the country had increased by approximately 50 percent over the past 5 years.

“Some of the key things that visitors from Myanmar [Burma] look for when they travel are activities to do with family, opportunities for personal improvement, relaxation and the ease of getting around the destination. Singapore offers these, and hence it is an attractive destination for Myanmar people,” said Sherleen Seah, STB’s area director for Thailand and Burma, at a press conference on Tuesday.

She added that Singapore offers a wide range of family-friendly activities suitable for all ages and that more than 50 percent of Burmese travelers are looking for these sorts of experiences, compared to only 20 percent who travel for business purposes.

Yet unlike several other Asean nations, Singapore has yet to agree to a visa waiver for Burmese nationals, posing a hurdle to smooth travel for many would-be visitors.

“We can apply online for a Singapore visa, but this costs money, and if we go to an embassy, it can take up to a week [to finish the process]. If Singapore were to waive visa requirements, as Thailand has, more Burmese travelers would go there,” said frequent traveler Thet Aung, though some industry experts doubt that obtaining a visa is truly an issue.

STB also noted that, on average, Burmese leisure travelers visit Singapore for 8 to 9 days, much longer than the global average.

“We don’t have specific figures for how many Myanmar travelers we expect for this year, but we will try to promote more travel to Singapore,” Seah said.

In an attempt to provide more information on Singapore to potential travelers, STB recently launched the YourSingapore group on Facebook, and it has plans to roll out more content in the future with the aim of bringing Burma and Singapore closer together. STB will also ask key public figures to share their Singapore experiences with Burmese people.

Aung Myat Kyaw, vice chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Federation, pointed out some of the reasons that Burmese and Singaporean travelers venture to the others’ country.

“Burmese travelers mostly go to Singapore for leisure, while Singaporeans mostly come here [to Burma] for business, though we still receive more visitors from Thailand,” he said.

“We’re promoting tourism not only to Singapore but to other countries in the region as well.”

Burma greeted some 4.68 million tourists in 2015, according to figures from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.