Tourism companies struggle as number of visitors falls below targets
THE tourism industry is falling well below its goal of 5.5 million visitors by the end of 2016, according to industry sources.
By the Ministry of Hotel and Tourism’s count, 4.68 million tourists visited the country in 2015, falling short of the 5 million visitor goal, and this year, through September, there have been 300,000 fewer visitors than by the same time last year.
Additionally, some have been critical of the country’s tourism data because a large majority of the visitors are day-trippers, crossing by land from China or Thailand and doing little to boost the economy outside of the border towns.
Some who work in the industry say that the questionable data and frequent policy changes are affecting their bottom lines.
“This tourism season is very bad for tours operators,” said Daw Yin Yin Kyi, a travel agent from Nyaung Shwe. “The taxation by the Ministry of Hotel and Tourism is too high for us. We can only actually operate for four months because there are very few tours booked during the other eight months.”
At the start of the tourism season, the ministry announced that tour operators would be required to have ministry-issued blue licences for their vehicles. It was implemented as a pilot project in southern Shan State.
“It is difficult to work when ministry is changing the policy often,” Daw Yin Yin Kyi said.
A Yangon-based tourism agency operator told The Myanmar Times that the ministry should release a blue-print for the industry and more specific guidelines.
Now is the time to focus on tourism development because many in the industry are jobless and there has been a reduction in the total number of tours, the expert, who asked not to be named, said.
“Some tour operators can only work six months and others for only four months in the year,” the operator said. “That is why the ministry should listen to those on the grassroots level. They should find out why people in the industry are struggling and then fix their problems instead of making pointless directives.”
None of the current data about tourist arrivals has been detailed enough to directly help tour agents, he said. The agencies are hiring tour guides and vehicles based the ministry targets, but then suffering when the numbers fail to keep pace.
Tourism ministry director U Myo Win Nyunt said that the ministry will reconsider the system for country tourist arrivals. They will release the data once every two months, he said.
“We are negotiating with the Immigration Department for a better system,” he said.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) accepted the way that the government opts to record day-trippers but the UNWTO branch in Asia disputed those numbers, he said.
“We will reconsider the system, which must be agreed upon by almost all international organisations,” U Myo Win Nyunt said. “Currently we are looking at the data from the Immigration Department which specifies the types of visas from all the gates in country.”
The Union of Myanmar Tourism Association chair U Thet Lwin Toh said that they will accept this system if the ministry releases specific tourist arrival data.
“Our tourism industry has been troubled by wrong data,” he said. “They should be transparent because we need to attract high-value customers, instead of just high volumes of customers.”
Tourists are guided around Inle Lake on a motorboat.