Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Burma's tourism industry shows signs of life

by Zar Ni
25 November 2008

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The Burmese tourism industry has picked up a little bit in recent months, after suffering serious losses in the aftermath of May's Cyclone Nargis and last year's Saffron Revolution.

According to officials and Ministry of Hotel and Tourism statistics, the number of visitors entering Burma through Rangoon airport reached 11,245 in September and 17,848 as of the end of October.

"Though it has picked up a little bit, the number of visitors is not encouraging. We hope the number will rise further in the coming months," an official from the Hotel and Tourism Department told Mizzima.

"There were no bookings for tours and travels at all last November. But it has picked up a little bit in recent months, though it cannot catch up with the previous records," a manager of a tour and travel agency in Rangoon said.

However, despite recent gains, international visitors entering Burma through Rangoon airport had reached only 13,136 for November through to the 24th of the month.

Most visitors are from China, Japan, Thailand and Korea – taking into account border crossings in addition to the country's international air hub.

However, the U.S and European markets take the lion's share of the Burmese tourism profit market, up to 70 percent.

An official of a tour and travel agency which mainly deals with the European and Asian markets said, "We have received only inquires for the next month, but no confirmations. So we cannot say anything right now in advance, regarding the short-term prognosis."

Currently, most tourists visit Rangoon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake, meaning the hotel industry in these tourist attraction areas is not significantly suffering, despite the overall slump. These four destinations are also linked by a tourist friendly daily air travel loop that hops from Rangoon to Bagan to Mandalay to Heho (Inle Lake) – before returning to the former capital.

Hotels in Ngapali beach, in contrast, are facing much difficulty during these hard times.

"Sandoway Hotel in Ngapali beach had to close their business last month as there were no visitors. They could reopen their hotel only this month with a few visitors," commented the official.

Other hotels in Ngapali have had to conduct sale promotions to try and make ends meet.

"We are giving special prices and room rates to our customers now. The number of visitors rose slightly [in recent months] but could not catch up to the records of previous years," an official from Sandoway Resort said.

But, hotels located near the country's primary tourist attraction and ancient city of Bagan, have also been negatively affected by a dwindling number of visitors.

"There are many hotels in Bagan city. As our room rates are high and they are mainly for the foreign market, we have suffered a lot of hardship in this difficult time with the low number of visitors," a staff member from the Thiri Pyit Saya Hotel in Bagan said.

"The number of foreign visitors has declined in comparison with previous years," an official from Kumudra Hotel in Bagan city confirmed.

With the slight increase in foreign visitors, some tour guides are now finding jobs, while others are not.

"The number of tour guides is too great for the number of visitors, so that some tour guides are still unemployed. I am lucky enough to get back some jobs through my employer," a veteran tour guide from Rangoon said.

"Now, the industry has risen a little bit, but it is not yet okay. If this situation persists for a long time, I must shift to another job," a tour guide from Mandalay remarked.

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