Tue 11 Sep 2012
Filed under: Business / Trade,International,News
Myanmar has undergone significant reforms in the last year, putting it firmly on the tourism and business agenda. But aside from economic and political changes, merely providing the means for foreigners to visit is a significant challenge, even as Myanmar begins to receive considerable international investment.
This has not escaped the attention of major airlines, who are scrambling to meet demand.
Singapore Airlines is the latest of several carriers to announce new routes to Yangon commencing in October. A new shuttle service operated by First Myanmar Investment, a company chaired by successful local millionaire Serge Pun, made its maiden flight yesterday between Yangon and the sprawling new capital Naypyidaw.
Several airlines have raced to claim limited spots at Myanmar’s airports. Qatar Airways announced in May that it would return after a four-year absence, starting flights to Yangon from October 3. From the end of October, Singapore Airlines will offer 16 flights a week. Meanwhile, Air Asia, the region’s fast-growing budget airline, now flies to Mandalay as well as Yangon and has increased the number of flights on offer. Several other carriers including Korea Air and Eva Air will also begin flights in October.
First Myanmar Investment’s new shuttle service from Yangon to Naypyidaw will drastically improve the lives of those who previously had to travel by the deteriorating road network in what was a 12-hour round trip.
Once a pariah state boycotted by tourists and the target of widespread economic sanctions, Myanmar was largely cut off from the outside world under the tight control of a military junta. In 2011, President Thein Sein gained power and began the process of political and economic reform. Since the reforms, Myanmar is attracting a lot of investor interest – and visitors.
Over 391,000 people visited Myanmar in 2011, according to official figures – a 26 per cent rise on the previous year. Local media reported on Sunday that Aung Zaw Win, chief of the government’s Directorate of Hotels and Tourism, said that the former capital Yangon is expected to receive around 600,000 visitors this year, and 900,000 in 2013. The Thai Kasikorn Bank’s research centre places the 2012 estimate at 500,000, generating income of around $400m.
With rapid growth in airborne access, Myanmar’s authorities are working to streamline the bureaucracy of immigration control. The ministry responsible now claims on their website to offer visas on arrival for those landing at Yangon International Airport, with a long list of terms and conditions. The airport was expanded in 2003 and claims to be able to handle 2.7m passengers a year.
Once in the country, the lack of accommodation is another problem which needs work. Demand is exceeding supply in the larger cities, which has pushed up prices and requires guests to book well in advance to ensure somewhere to stay. The Myanmar Times reported last month that the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism expects the shortage to ease when an additional 1,700 hotel rooms are made available by next year.