Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Burma's tourist arrivals soar in first half of 2010

By Zaw Win Than
August 23 - 29, 2010

Pilgrims light candles at Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda on the full moon day of Waso last month. Government figures show tourist arrivals were up 37 percent in the first seven months of the year.
Pic: Kaung Htet

TOURIST numbers are up again this year, according to figures released by the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism. During the first seven months of 2010, 161,322 visitors entered the country, 37.4 percent more than in the same period last year.

The figure for 2009 – 227,400 visitors – was itself a 25pc increase on the 170,812 recorded for the year 2008.

And travel professionals are predicting a busy and successful October-to-March tourist season, despite some cancellations being reported following the August 13 announcement that an election would be held on November 7.

“I believe arrivals will increase hugely in the coming peak season because even now, in the low season, we have a lot of bookings. I heard most hotels are fully booked for October and November,” said U Hla Aye, managing director of Shan Yoma Travel and Tours.

He said tourism would not be impacted by the November election, citing changes this year that have helped encourage more foreign visitors. These include the introduction of a visa-on-arrival system, the establishment of direct flights to Hanoi and more competition on the Yangon-Kuala Lumpur route.

On March 2, Vietnam Airlines began direct Hanoi-Yangon flights, and will introduce direct flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Yangon from October. The visa-on-arrival service, described by many travel professionals as a breakthrough, was launched on May 1. Meanwhile on July 20, Malaysia’s Air Asia started direct flights between Kuala Lumpur and Yangon.

“Vietnamese visitors have been increasing since direct flights began, and tourists from Europe and elsewhere who are in Vietnam can come here [more easily],” said U Hla Aye.

Most visitors to Myanmar – about 109,641, or 67pc of the total – were from Asian countries: 31,795 from Thailand; 19,580 from China; and 10,206 from South Korea.

“In June and July, we received cancellations from Germany for October and November because of concerns over the election, even though the election date was not known at that time,” said a spokesperson for a leading tour company in Yangon.

“We informed our customers of the election date when it was announced [on August 13] and so far we have not received any cancellations. However, we have received [more] bookings for the second half of the season, January to March,” he said.

A total of 33,953 tourists from European countries visited Myanmar from January to July, representing over 19pc of total arrivals. The largest group of European visitors was from France, with 7380 visitors, followed by Germany with 5678 visitors and Italy with 3925 visitors.

Independent travellers, known in the industry as Foreign Individual Travellers (FIT), made up the majority of the increase, with arrivals jumping 53.4pc to 89,645, compared to the 58,456 recorded for the same period in 2009.

Package tour customers were up 52.1pc to 14,555, compared to last year’s 9570. There were more modest rises among travellers with business visas and social visas of 18.2pc and 11.2pc respectively, the figures show.

“The coming tourist season is very promising. The elections won’t hinder tourist arrivals unless something happens to the entry visa for security reasons,” said another tour operator in Yangon.

“The election is only for November. I still see promising signs for October, December and the rest of the season. In general, it’s really okay this year in terms of tourism,” he said.

“We’ve got a number of bookings for October and occupancy is extremely good for the coming peak season,” said Daw May Myat Mon Win, director of sales and marketing of Chatrium Hotel in Yangon.

“Compared to last year, we’re receiving more business and corporate travellers. We expect our occupancy will be up by 20pc compared to last year,” she said.

Daw Susie Moe Aung, sales director of Park Royal Hotel, said: “We’ve received quite good bookings for October to December and onwards. This year we expect occupancy to be 18pc higher than last year. Obviously we’re hoping to see a tremendous increase in tourist arrivals this year.”

Myanmar tourism suffered from a number of factors over the past two-three years, Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, the recession and the airport takeover in Bangkok in late 2008.

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