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Some three million tourists to Burma in 2014 brought a record US$1.135 billion to the country, according to official figures from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.
The number of visitors is set to continue rising, with Burma listed alongside Cuba as one of the US Tour Operators Association’s “hottest destinations to visit” in 2015.
Following years of isolation, Burma has become increasingly open to foreign tourists since President Thein Sein’s government took power in 2011.
After initially struggling to cope with the influx of foreign nationals, the response has been significant government investment.
Commitment to supporting the rapidly expanding and lucrative industry is clear, with a Tourism Development Bank set to be established to provide loans and technical assistance to entrepreneurs in the field. Myanmar Tourism Federation’s co-general secretary, Tin Tun Aung, is quoted in Eleven Myanmar as saying, “A Tourism Development Bank is due to open to support hotels, tourism companies and local businesses gain access to capital.”
After successfully chairing and hosting the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) activities in 2014, on 22- 29 January Naypyidaw will host the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) for the first time in 34 years since the organisation’s conception. The ATF aims to promote the ten ASEAN nations as a holistic touristic destination, and to encourage intra-ASEAN tourism.
In recent days, Burmese immigration authorities have expanded the e-visa scheme, launched in September 2014, to include a further 32 countries, meaning that nationals from more than 100 countries can now apply for a travel visa online.
Foreign investors have welcomed the hasty development of the tourist industry and tourism-based infrastructure in Burma, with Hilton Worldwide recently announcing the opening of their second property in the country. “Our expanding presence in Myanmar [Burma]… provides more choices for travellers and elevates hospitality standards and services in this increasingly important and growing region,” said Rob Palleschi, Global Head of Full Service Brands.
Experts have expressed concern over the burgeoning tourist industry in Burma, stating the need for responsible, “pro-poor” tourism and improved regulation.
Who will benefit from Burma’s tourism boom? Watch the DVB debate here.