The challenge ahead
THAT Myanmar is one of the most exciting tourist
destinations in the world there is no question. Over the last decade,
the Asia Pacific region has been the fastest growing tourism region
in the world. But as a country right in the middle of Asia, significant
challenges to meet its targets of a more than a million tourists
annually. Aggressive tourism campaigns, among other factors, have
fueled the significant growth of tourism in countries like Thailand
and Malaysia, however Myanmar has been unable to commit significant
resources to tourism.
Nevertheless, the only way is up in the Myanmar tourism
sector and pundits within the industry expect a high rate of growth
over the coming decade. Myanmar has good reason to expect solid tourism
growth. A wealthy new middle class of Asians are taking to the skies,
joining their European and American counterparts on their trips around
Asia, be it for business or pleasure. But, to capitalise on this
there are a number of significant internal factors to take into account.
There is an urgent necessity for stronger economic growth, successful
tourist promotion, and a recognition that tourism is a powerful engine
of growth and a generator of foreign exchange earnings. A quick look
around the region confirms the emphasis being laid by governments
on attracting tourists. For instance in Thailand, Australia, and New
Zealand tourism is the major foreign exchange earner. It is ranked
second in Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Philippines, and ranked third
in Singapore and Indonesia. Tourism serves as an important means
to increase economic growth, create employment, and improve the overall
balance of payments by helping to offset deficits in other sectors.
The relaxation such as the issue of "visa on arrival"
for tourists currently is one of the biggest debating points within
the sector. The Government has dealt with this by removing some administrative
obstacles, making it easier for visitors from Asean countries to
travel here. And last year the Government lowered the requirement
to change US$300 into local currency on arrival – bringing it down
to $200. However, such actions are not enough to keep up with its
aggressive regional competitors. Indeed, almost all Asian nations are
committing substantial manpower and resources to attracting more arrivals.
The truth for Myanmar at this point is that more flights equals more
arrivals, which equals more revenue for Government and the private
sector. Myanmar should now move with haste to strike agreements with
potential carriers to the country and, as a first step, dramatically
increase the number of flights from the regional hub of Bangkok.
A dedicated airport departure tax, the revenue from which is assigned
directly into a national tourism promotion fund, is well and truly
warranted. Even the raising of US$1 million would give an immense
boost in finances and morale of the sector.
More funds should be allocated for tourism infrastructure
in an effort to increase arrivals and receipts by the end of this
decade. Myanmar has increasing competition for the tourist dollar,
and the national tourism organisations in Myanmar will also have to
allocate increased funding to take a slice of this burgeoning tourism
market. Rising incomes have also created a middle class of sophisticated
and affluent Myanmars who are better educated, have more disposable
income, and who appreciate the value of leisure. While a lot has
been spoken about attracting the foreign tourists, much more can
be done to attract this wealthy class by providing more sophisticated
travel and accommodation options at home. Mt Popa Resort and the
beach destinations of Ngapali and Ngwe Saung are the first in what
will become a greater proliferation of such options. In recent years
Myanmar has also become politically more stable than it has ever
been. However, continuing social and economic reforms of the government
remain crucial to developing a vibrant tourism sector. Marketing
will be absolutely crucial and in light of the increasingly competitive
situation from Myanmar’s neighbours, traditional methods of marketing
a destination to the masses must yield to more focused market segmentation
strategies and themed campaigns. Marketing campaigns designed to
enhance the destination image of Myanmar by focusing on the rich
cultural, historical, and natural heritage of the country is obvious.
Through creative and innovative product differentiation strategies,
Myanmar can create a diverse destination product with an unique
appeal that will enrich the visitor experience, provide quality,
and maximise the value of the visitor’s leisure time.
Increased emphasis on niche marketing will benefit
tourism. The increase in demand for travel is also creating new marketing
opportunities in eco-tourism, adventure travel, dive travel, cruises,
golf tours, arts and entertainment among others. Tourism marketers
must focus on attracting these high yield markets by differentiating
their products and customising them to suit individual needs. Since
Myanmar covers a great diversity of cultures and lifestyles, more
innovative and creative marketing strategies have to be designed for
each source market of visitors. Finally, the buying power of the
currency has major implications for the tourism industry. in the region.
Inbound travel will increase as visitors are attracted by their increased
purchasing power here. More specifically, visitor expenditures will
increase as a result of a longer length of stay and attractive prices.
The profile of the tourists to Asia is changing quickly. No longer
is Asia the backpackers’ paradise and a new region to be explored,
and the local tourism industry needs to move quickly to re-invent
reasons to bring in the high yield visitor. With Asia looking more
and more like the West every year, with the same skyscrapers, modernity
and comforts, and previous idyllic resorts becoming over-crowded or
polluted by unsustainable development, the challenge is really up
to the tourism industry as a whole. Myanmar, more than any other Asian
country, can position itself extremely well.
So, challenges remain, serious challenges. Now, more than
ever Myanmar has a real opportunity to see tourism become a significant
if not number one earner for the country