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Tourism industry optimistic after record-breaking year

1271 Myanmar Times
Following a record-breaking year for the tourism sector that saw Myanmar welcome almost 300,000 foreign visitors, industry leaders say they are anticipating an even stronger 2011. Figures from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism show that 295,174 foreign tourists passed through the Yangon gateway, a 29.8 percent increase on 2009. the 227,421 visitors recorded that year represent-ted a 17.6 pc increase on 2008.
2010 was a record year for Myanmar tourism industry, with the numbers of arrivals beating... our previous record year in 2006," said Daw Su Su tin, managing director of Exotissimo Travel in Yangon. "And I believe 2011 will be another record year because reservations are already much better than last year. I'm expecting arrivals will be up 30pc."
With 198,040, or 67 pc of total visitors, Asia was once again the leading region of origin for foreign tourists. The 59.010 from Thailand represented the largest total for a single country, followed by China with 32,757.
The largest group for European visitors was from France, with 13,102 followed by Germany with 10,932 and the United Kingdom with 7195.
Myanmar Marketing Committee chairman Dr Aung Myat Kyaw said industry stakeholders were "very optimistic" about the prospects for 2011.
"We look forward to having a new political system that will be tourism friendly... it is a long-awaited change," he said last week. "We are not only looking forward to expanding the markets that always existed in Myanmar_ as a cultural or natural destination, a destination for "travelers" _ but also to become a "holiday" destination."
"If the visa-on-arrival system was re-introduced it would open Myanmar up to last-minute travel and weekend traveler and we would definitely see an increase in the number of tourist arrivals," he said, before declaring. "for Myanmar, 2011 will be an exciting year."
independent travelers, known in the industry as Foreign Individual Travellers (FIT), made up the majority of the increase in overall arrivals, increasing 49.3 pc to 173,043.
There were more modest rises among other categories of travellers with 21,996 arriving on package tours, 48,557 on business visas and 28,240 with social visas.
The rapid growth in tourist arrivals has not been matched by investment in infrastructure and some experts are predicting that the industry will struggle to cope with demand in the coming 12 months.
"With the expected increase in arrivals the biggest challenge in 2011 for us will be to cope with the shortage of tourism infrastructure in Myanmar, namely accommodation, seats on domestic flights, transportation and, most of all, tour guides," said MMC vice chairman U Phyoe Wai Yar Zar.
"We need to concentrate on capacity-building programs so that our industry can be on par or even better than our competitors in the region," he said.
Mr Frank Janmaat, general manager of Inya Lake Hotel, agreed that maintaining a high level of service could be problematic given "a large increase" in foreign arrivals was anticipated.
There is no reason why a country like Myanmar should receive five times less visitors than, for instance, Laos. The biggest challenge will be to cope with the increasing number of tourist as far as infrastructure, communications and preserving the unique national identity is concerned," mr Janmaat said.
"I think that the elections have also brought a lot of positive publicity to the country after the negative reports from the international press that Myanmar has so undeservedly received over the past couple of years."
for its part, the ministry plans to promote Myanmar further at international trade shows. A spokesperson said the ministry also plans to facilitate smoother travel by relaxing visa procedures both in Yangon and at border entry points, such as Tachileik-Mae Sai on the border with Thailand and Muse- Ruili on the Chinese border. The ministry has increased cooperation with regional organizations, namely ASEAN and its dialogue partners, the spokesperson said.
And, it seems, the world is taking notice. On January 11, Luxury Travel Magazine named Myanmar in its "Top 11 Luxury Travel Trends for 2011", alongside Sri Lanka and Brazil, and declared it "wide open for tourism".

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