Myanmar: Surprise, surprise!


(eTN ) – During last week’s ASEAN Travel Forum (ATF), the biggest surprise came probably from Myanmar. Following the government’s brutal repression to peacefully demonstrating citizens and monks last September, tourism was expected to collapse with no hope for a quick turn-around. Not so, according to new numbers.

If November and December saw indeed a collapse mostly from European markets, it seems that the country is already on the path to recovery. According to U Htay Aung, director general at the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism of Myanmar, tourist arrivals improved rapidly. “Prior to September, we were recording a growth of 25 percent in international arrivals. We finally ended the year 2007 with an increase of 13.5 percent,” he explained during a press conference. For 2008, a budget of US$780,000 has been approved by the government for the country’s promotion.

2007 tourist season was saved only by the growth in “border tourism,” up by 28 percent with 468,000 travellers. Mainly Chinese and Thais cross the border to Myanmar for shopping and to gamble in nearby casinos. By contrast, arrivals at Yangon International Airport declined by 5.85 percent, reflecting overseas travellers cautious attitude following September crackdown.

But, business is back. Prices for hotels were lowered and some 100,000 special packages put on the market in a bid to encourage travellers.

“We now see that many Europeans only postponed their trip last September. In fact, demand from France and Germany picks up again. I personally believe that many realized that by not coming back, they first hurt local people, who now struggle to survive,” described Pyai Phyo Tun, assistant general manager of Treasure Travel & Tours.

Airlines start in fact to put flights back in service. Thai Airways will increase again its presence, according to Pruet Boobphakam, director for the airline’s Southeast Asia division. Aung added that Emirates is studying an eventual landing in Yangon from Dubai. Air Bagan continues to fly to Bangkok with a Fokker 100 but could quickly put on the line its Airbus A310. However, Air Bagan’s suspension of flights to Singapore is unlikely to resume any time soon.