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Myanmar eyes more visitors from China

By LOW SHI PING in Bagan, Myanmar | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-01-20 10:17
A man takes a photograph of pagodas in the ancient city of Bagan in Myanmar on July 6. [U AUNG/XINHUA]

Visa policy and Mandarin-speaking guides being used help boost tourism

Myanmar is courting tourists, especially those from China-and its efforts seem to be paying off.

Total visitor arrivals in the first 10 months of 2019 increased 24 percent year-on-year to 35.2 million, according to Myanmar's Ministry of Hotels and Tourism. But Chinese tourists recorded the largest relative increase of 161 percent year-on-year.

The hike is partly thanks to the visa-on-arrival policy for Chinese nationals effective from October in 2018 for a two-year period. Local tour guides have been encouraged to learn Mandarin since 2017. Private kindergartens are also teaching Mandarin-a previously unprecedented move.

The country is in the process of making the next Tourism Master Plan for 2020 to 2030.

"We are being supported by the Luxembourg Agency for Development Cooperation to do this," said Maung Maung Kyaw, director general of the directorate of hotels and tourism at the ministry.

"Broadly speaking, we are looking at creating new tourism destinations as well as building on labor and infrastructure capabilities to support the industry."

The Myanmar Tourism Federation, or MTF, a private sector launched in 2011, launched the Myanmar Tourism Bank last year, with five percent of its profits feeding back into the tourism industry.

The initiatives by the MTF include starting a WeChat account, making videos of the country's attractions, and publishing books and guides to be made available in China.

"We also attend travel shows in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Kunming to promote Myanmar to the Chinese," explained U Yan Win, MTF chairman.

Maung Maung Kyaw said: "I hope that tourism becomes an important source of tax revenue for Myanmar."

Stretching approximately 2,000 kilometers lengthwise, Myanmar has everything from snow-capped peaks in the north to virgin tropical islands in the south.

"At the moment, most tourists come and stay in Myanmar for an average of three days, visiting primarily Mandalay, Bagan, and sometimes Inle Lake," said U Yan Win.

A key priority for the MTF is to promote the country as an ecotourism destination.

He points to the lesser developed northern regions of the country, such as the Hukaung Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Kachin State, known as a tiger reserve area.

In the same state is the Khakaborazhi National Park-with a mountain of the same name that is an extension of the Himalayas and the highest in the country at 5,881 meters. It also provides trekking trails with views of snowcapped mountains.

The MTF has aspirations to develop the southern regions of the country too, particularly the Tanintharyi Region.

"There are virgin islands, pristine diving sites, unparalleled marine biodiversity and fresh seafood. However, at the moment, only budget travelers visit as there is not much tourism infrastructure," said U Yan Win.

"We are looking for opportunities to develop the area, such as build five-star hotels." he said, referring to places like the Mergui Archipelago and Myeik city.

New airport

Already, things are looking up. In the southern most town of Kawthaung, which borders Thailand, there are plans to open an international airport, which would improve air connectivity to the region.

Memories Group, one of the most established high-end tourism companies in Myanmar, backs this plan. Its CEO Cyrus Pun has set his sights on the Mergui Archipelago.

"It has 800 islands that are unspoiled and untouched. In terms of marine biodiversity, fans of diving have told me that while the fish there are smaller, there is a greater variety," he said.

"Myanmar still has a mysterious, exotic appeal. It has an innocence about it, tangible through its culture, history and the spirituality of the people," explained Pun.

And the country aims at development of the tourism industry in a responsible and sustainable way.

The Myanmar Tourism Law was passed in 2018 and it includes guidelines on how visitors should behave when they are in the country.

U Yan Win said they are in consultation with the Tourism Authority of Thailand about best practices on managing the budget tourists through regulation.

While one of his biggest challenges is the negative publicity that Myanmar receives regarding its handling of sociopolitical conflicts between different communities, he hopes that travelers do not judge the country by what they read in the Western media.

"Most of the conflict is isolated along the northern border, but ours is a big country. Come and see for yourself what Myanmar has to offer-you will help everyone in the country and contribute to the development of the economy."

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