Myanmar – an emerging destination for Chinese Tourists?

At the Asean Travel Forum (ATF) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Jens Thraenhart from ChinaTravelTrends.com and Dragon Trail had an opportunity to talk to Mr. Htay Aung, Director General for the Ministry of Hotel and Tourism for Myanmar (left), and Mr. Mason Florence, Executive Director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office.

Myanmar remains one of the most mysterious and undiscovered destinations in the world. Myanmar sits at the crossroads of Asia’s great civilisations of India and China, and looks out onto the vast Indian Ocean next to Thailand. One of South East Asia’s largest and most diverse countries, Myanmar stretches from the sparkling islands of the Andaman Sea in the south right up into the Eastern Himalayan mountain range.

Although Chinese tourists visited Myanmar in large numbers, most of them came to the country to look for business opportunities, and are not much beneficial for the tourism industry. Thai tourists lead the tourist inflow into Asian countries every year, followed by Chinese tourists.  Tourists visiting Myanmar have various fields of interest including culture, adventure trip, nature and social life of local people. For the Chinese tourists, their interest has been economic benefits in the country.  “Most Chinese tourists came to the country to buy gems. When they came, they sometimes hired interpreters here. Sometimes, they were accompanied by young Chinese citizens who could speak Myanmar,” said a person who had graduated in Chinese Language from the University of Foreign Languages (Mandalay). Asian tourists to Myanmar include Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Malaysian, Singaporean and Chinese Taipei, and Chinese tourists make up ten percent of the total every year.

According to Ministry of Hotels and Tourism figures, in the January-July period some 161,322 visitors entered the country, the Myanmar Times reported. Thailand was the biggest source of visitors to Myanmar with 31,795 tourists in the period, followed by China’s 19,580 visitors, South Korea with 10,206, France with 7,380, Germany with 5,678 and Italy with 3,925. Travel industry sources said the introduction of a new visa-on-arrival scheme on May 1 had helped draw individual tourists to the country, whose military-run regime is considered a pariah among western democracies. Foreign Individual Travelers, as they are termed, accounted for 89,645 of all arrivals, up 53.4 percent.

“Chinese tourists visited Myanmar in large numbers, but they were pursuing their economic benefits. They did not spend much money. They did not visit pagodas. They did not go shopping. They did not go to souvenir shops. So, the benefit they contributed to the industry was not much,” said a responsible person from a local and foreign tour agency. Spending power of each tourist contributes directly to hotels, tour agencies, tour guides, transportation sector, souvenir shops and restaurants while indirect benefits go to agricultural and livestock farmers.

When tourism develops, per capita incomes of people in the related fields can increase, according to tourism experts and researchers. According to statistics released based on tourism income and the number of tourists visiting the country each year by the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, a tourist spent six to seven days and from US$ 70 to US$ 100 per day on average. Since 2000, more Myanmar youth has been learning Chinese language, and it has become the second largest foreign language in Myanmar after English.

Myanmar will grant visa-on-arrival for cross-border tourists entering by road from Teng Chong, southwestern Yunnan province of China, to travel deep into Myanmar’s tourist sites by air en route the border town of Myitkyina in the northernmost Kachin state. As part of its bid to promote cross-border tourism with China, Myanmar will also grant such visa on arrival for tourists arriving Myitkyina through chartered flights from Teng Chong international airport, as well as other international airports of China to travel far up to such tourist sites as Yangon, Mandalay, ancient city of Bagan and famous resort of Ngwe Saung. Normally, cross-border tourists from China are allowed to travel up to Myitkyina only and formal visa is required for traveling deep into the country. The introduction of the visa-on-arrival has removed difficulties for tourists to obtain Myanmar visa from the Myanmar consulate-general stationed in Kunming, the report said, setting that leaving Myanmar on return trip for those who travel by road from Teng Chong to Myitkyina shall take the original route of crossing back the border gate.

Finally, Myanmar is only promoted at tourism fairs such as CITM in China, due to invitation by CNTA (China National Tourism Administration). No really push has been made to tell the story of Myanmar online via social media or digital marketing in China.

However, according to Mr. Htay Aung, director General of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism of Myanmar, there is a hope. Tourism Development Agencies, such as ADB are considering entry, which would further provide aide that would further tourism.

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