Tourism com­pa­nies strug­gle as num­ber of vis­i­tors falls below tar­gets

The Myanmar Times - - News - EI EI THU eiei­thu@mm­times.com

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.”

Photo: Kaung Htet

Tourists are guided around Inle Lake on a mo­tor­boat.

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