Myanmar will see one million tourist arrivals in the 2009-2010 fiscal year despite having attracted only about 200,000 international tourists in 2008, U Htay Aung, the director general of the Directorate of Hotel and Tourism, said last month.
The prediction came on the heels of the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s forecast – based on figures from the first four months of the year and current market conditions – that international tourism would decrease by 4-6 percent worldwide in 2009.
Speaking at a seminar on trade and tourism between Indonesia and Myanmar held on June 23 in Yangon, U Htay Aung said that the combined efforts of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, Myanmar Marketing Committee (MMC), Union of Myanmar Travel Association (UMTA) and Myanmar Hoteliers Association (MHA) to promote Myanmar as a top destination would not only help the country buck the global trend, but also increase arrivals fivefold.
While travel industry representatives in Myanmar agreed that tourist arrival numbers were likely to increase over last year’s low figures, they expressed doubt that the one million mark would be reached.
“Although I don’t think the current A(H1N1) scare will have a significant impact on tourism, it’s clear that tourism everywhere has been seriously affected by the global economic downturn,” said Dr Nay Zin Latt, the secretary general of MHA.
“It will not be easy to attract one million visitors in the current climate, and if we do experience a sudden jump from 200,000 to one million, we wouldn’t have enough hotel rooms throughout the country to accommodate them all,” he said.
“In order to handle that many tourists, we would need to see more investment in hotels,” he added.
According to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, Myanmar has 652 hotels with a total of 26,610 rooms. Thirty-five of these hotels operate under foreign investment, mostly from Singapore, Thailand, Japan and Hong Kong.
According to the ministry, international tourist arrivals declined by 8pc in the first two months of 2009 compared with the same period in 2007, when there were 62,599 arrivals. In 2008, there 40,352 tourist arrivals in the same period.
The ministry claims that 2006 was a record year, with Myanmar receiving more than 200,000 international tourists through Yangon alone. However, the ministry was unable to supply overall figures for the year.
Government figures show that 193,319 foreigners visited Myanmar in 2008, down from 247,971 the year before.
Arrival numbers have suffered in recent years due to a variety of factors, including the global recession, Cyclone Nargis and the closure of airports in Cyclone Nargis and the closure of airports in Bangkok by protesters in November and December 2008.
Ko Aung Kyaw Thu, a Yangon-based travel expert, said he expected international tourist arrivals to Myanmar for 2009-2010 to increase by 10-20pc compared with last year, although he also acknowledged that people’s spending power has been affected by the global economy.
“In any case, people will travel for relaxation and recreation, but their travel patterns and spending power will change because of the global recession. It may change the size of their budget,” he said.
Ko Phyo Wai Yarzar, the vice chairman of MMC, said the committee would continue to promote Myanmar as a tourist destination by attending international travel fairs and organizing domestic fundraising activities.
“But to reach one million arrivals, we need to do more to convince tour operators to promote Myanmar in their respective markets, and we need the funds to do so,” he said.
“We saw tourist arrivals drop in 2007 and 2008 from the high of 2006, but I think we’ll see tourist arrivals increase again in the 2009-2010 fiscal year,” he said.
According to the UN World Tourism Barometer, global tourism declined from 269 million international tourist arrivals between January and April 2008, to 247 million during the same period this year, a drop of 8pc.
Africa and South America were the only regions to buck the downward trend, posting increases of 3pc and 0.2pc respectively.
“The positive results in Africa reflect the strength of North African destinations around the Mediterranean and the recovery of Kenya as one of leading Sub-Saharan destinations,” said a statement from the World Tourism Organization.
France remained the world’s top tourism destination in 2008 with 79 million arrivals, while the United States regained the second-place position, which it had lost to Spain after the September 11, 2001, attacks.