Yangon and travel business

By Maung Maung Myint Swe

I was observing international visitors/travellers and guests arriving to Yangon International Airport. Some came on their own while some came in a group. Yangon was called the economic capital of Myanmar and was the main gateway for international visitors/travellers to enter either via air or by sea.
Visa restrictions were eased allowing international visitors/travellers to visit the country easily while the Union Government, Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) and Yangon Region government were working systematically for businesses and investors to enter and invest easily and seamlessly.

Increase in international visitors/travelers
“The majority of international visitors/travellers entering Myanmar by air came through Yangon International Airport. In addition to this, visitors/travellers enter Myanmar by cruise ships at Thilawa Port. Cruise ships with international visitors/travellers embark at Thilawa Port.
“Compared to 2018, Yangon received 26 per cent more international visitors/travellers in 2019,” said Directorate of Hotels and Tourism Yangon Region Director U Naing Win.
Yangon had heritage buildings, religious buildings like Shwedagon Pagoda, parks and other interesting place. Due to easing of visa restrictions Yangon International Airport was handling more and more visitors every year. According to figures released by Yangon Aerodrome Company (YACL), Yangon International Airport handled up to 4.6 million passengers during the first nine months of 2019. This was 6.5 per cent more than the 4.32 million passengers handled during the first nine months of 2018. This was due to expanding numbers of flights especially to/from China. Between October 2018 to October 2019, three more airlines and two more destinations were added. As of October 2019, 35 airlines were connecting to 33 cities in 12 Asian and two middle east countries.
The increase in passenger numbers was mainly due to the increase in visitors/travellers from Japan, Thai and China.

Tourists walking around in Yangon.  Photo: Khin Zun Zar Lin
Tourists walking around in Yangon.  Photo: Khin Zun Zar Lin

Ease in obtaining news and information
“Basic infrastructure for travel business in Yangon need to be upgraded. There must be platforms and walkways in downtown area that visitors/travellers can use conveniently and safely. News and information of locations, places of interest, eateries etc. should be provided. During peak travel season tens of thousands of visitors visit Yangon daily. Percentage increase of restaurants and hotels are quite high compared to the past,” said U Thurein Aung, Programme Officer, Yangon Heritage Trust.
Hotels and upscale motel/inn rooms play an important and basic role in developing Yangon’s travel sector. According to 2019 second quarter market review of Myanmar conducted by Canada-based Myanmar real estate consultancy by the end of 2019, Yangon will have about 5,700 high end hotel, motel and inn rooms. This was estimated to increase to about 7,000 by end 2021.
“For travel business to develop, our services need to improve. Directorate of Hotels and Tourism was systematically working toward improving services of the 447 hotels in Yangon. Maintaining and reporting of guests list was conducted systematically and securely through an online system. Inbound and outbound services of about 2,000 travel and tour companies were systematically overseen. Thousands of guides were systematically managed and administered” said Director U Naing Win.
There were about 189 heritage places in Yangon that attracts visitors and the places were systematically conserved and maintained. At the moment, more than 30 buildings were attached with blue plaques designating it as Yangon’s cultural heritage. These were priceless heritage of Yangon. Due to this, visitors to Yangon increase 26 per cent in 2019 over the same period in 2018.

 Photo: Ye Htut Tin (NLM)
Photo: Ye Htut Tin (NLM)

Ancient buildings and structures
“Shwedagon Pagoda is a must-visit place. Visitors are not interested in all pagodas. Most visit Shwedagon and Chauk Htat Gyi pagodas. They also observe the life styles of Yangonites. Walking tours of Sule Pagoda and neighbourhood was arranged to study the socio-economic situation of downtown Yangon as well as to study and observe ancient heritage buildings. Arrangements were also made to take a ride along the Yangon circular rail route,” said Myanmar Tour Guide Association Chairman
U Aung Tun Lin.

Tourists walk around at the Mahabandoola Park.  Photo: Ye Htut Tin (NLM)
Tourists walk around at the Mahabandoola Park.  Photo: Ye Htut Tin (NLM)

Observing the true situation
Rising numbers of visitors observing the true situation in Yangon helps toward countering the fake narratives and negative images about Myanmar that were painted or spread around the world.
More need to be done toward enabling more visitors to come and see Myanmar’s social and urban heritages, cultural and religious buildings. Singapore that was near Myanmar received about 18 to 20 million visitors yearly while Myanmar’s neighbour Thailand received up to about 38 million visitors annually. As Myanmar was receiving only a little more than 3 million visitors yearly, more need to be done individually or collectively by the people, organizations and departments that were related to or were in the travel sector.
Ms. Greta from Rome, Italy who was visiting Shwedagon Pagoda said “I came to study and experience first-hand a place that was on the other side of the world from where I lived. I want to feel the unique experience and culture of this part of the world. This is my first day in Myanmar. People are friendly and the place is safe so it is a nice big city. Tomorrow, I’ll go to Shan State. I believe there’ll be more to experience there as well.” ( Translated by Handytips)

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