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Cooperation can boost Myanmar's tourism

By Qin Zhongwei in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar | China Daily | Updated: 2013-06-19 07:44

With visits by tourists hitting a high in 2012, Myanmar is seeking more cooperation and investment from China to unleash its potential, the country's head of tourism said.

"We have regulated our foreign investment law, which is very user-friendly to international investors," U Htay Aung, minister of hotels and tourism, told China Daily.

Singapore and Thailand now top the list of foreign investors in Myanmar's tourism sector, but the minister expects more investment from China.

China and Myanmar can cooperate in many areas that need upgrading, including the level of services and accommodation, human resources training and infrastructure development, he said.

Last year, the number of international arrivals in Myanmar topped 1.06 million. Of that, 600,000 came by air, and the remainder came through border crossings, especially from China and Thailand. Chinese visitors were the second-largest group of visitors to Myanmar in both categories.

"Because our two countries have air and land connectivity, we will see more Chinese tourists visiting us," he said.

His ministry is planning to promote Myanmar tourism through TV commercials on international TV channels such as the BBC and Channel NewsAsia.

"And we are also happy to work with Chinese TV stations, if they are willing to," he added.

Myanmar is an enthusiastic participant in the annual China International Travel Mart, the largest travel event in Asia for international tourism professionals, he said.

The minister sees tourism infrastructure development, which lagged during the period of Western sanctions, as a key challenge in boosting the industry.

Myanmar has a severe shortage of hotel rooms, and hotel rates have been rising due to the sharp increase in visitors. Travelers have had trouble getting seats on some domestic flights now that the country's airports are bustling.

The government's mission is to develop the tourism industry while "we control the bubble", he said.

In regard to hotel construction, foreign investors are not allowed to own land but can hold leases for up to 70 years.

The development of several hotel zones across the country is underway. A new airport is being built in Yangon, the largest city and commercial center of Myanmar. And the expansion of the capacity of airports at destinations such as Mandalay, the country's second-largest city, and Bagan, a favorite tourism destination, are being discussed, according to local media.

Many international hotel groups have returned, keen to invest. A new hotel construction project in Yangon was approved in April, local media reported.

A joint venture by a British and a Chinese company will build a hotel and a serviced residence in the Pyinmabin Industrial Zone in suburban Yangon. Another high-end hotel built by a Hong Kong company will open soon in the same city.

In Yangon alone, another 1,000 new rooms will be built to serve the booming market this year, the minister said.

When asked about foreign visitors' security and safety issues while traveling in Myanmar, the minister shrugged off any concerns.

"Seeing is believing," he said.

Myanmar will host the 27th South East Asian Games at the end of this year and it will chair the Association of South East Asian Nations next year. Both will be good opportunities, involving visits by athletes, businesspeople, political leaders and travelers, he said.

"We will get a lot of mass market experience out of these events."

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