By Nay Thwin
Burma’s tourism industry is struggling to cope with the influx of travellers and businessmen visiting the country, with hotels at bursting point and the government fearing humilitation if it is unable to accommodate an expected surge in numbers over the coming year.
One plan mooted to cope with the increase is to expand existing motels, particularly in Rangoon, the first stop for tourists flying into Burma. Thet Lwin Toe, deputy chairman of the Union of Myanmar Travel Association, said that particular problems were arising from the many business delegations now arriving to scope out the investment climate.
“What has made matters worse is that when diplomats, businessmen or foreign [government] delegations come to Burma, they book out the large hotels, and other tourists are sent elsewhere or left with no accommodation.”
Tourist numbers for this year have already passed 400,000; in 2010, less than 800,000 in total visited. Accompanying the boom has been a rise in hotel prices in Burma, but Thet Lwin Toe said these had reached an ” unreasonable rate”. He added that the industry would need to “provide them a service good enough for the price, otherwise we’d lose face”.
Now that tourists will be able to obtain online visas and border gates have reopened, numbers could reach a million this year. While it pales in comparison to figures for neigbouring Thailand, which attracted around 17 million tourists in 2011, it nevertheless signals promise for an industry long derided by campaigners as an economic crutch for the former junta.
Still, however, major hurdles remain. “Buildings needed to be equipped with water, gas, electricity, phones, cable TV and information systems – an effort to introduce a 5000 kyat ($US7) mobile SIM card is gaining momentum, which is good,” said Thet Lwin Toe.
“For now, it’s hard for us even when we get two or three large planes arriving at the same time at Rangoon airport – we get people jostling at the immigration counters and the baggage carousel, so we also need to expand the airport.”
While tourists are likely to visit the major towns of Rangoon and Mandalay, as well as popular sites like Bagan and Inle Lake, Naypyidaw remains low on their list of prioroties. “It won’t get many tourists as there’s nothing attractive there and also it is difficult to get there,” he said of the vapid new capital, which was built on a patch of scrubland in central Burma and only opened in 2006.