It was over a century ago when renowned novelist, Rudyard Kipling, said “This is Burma and it will be quite unlike any land you know about” This statement holds true today with Myanmar offering the modern tourists a unique experience and something a little different. Since the country’s reforms in 2012 to re-open the economy, globetrotters have put Myanmar on their places-to-visit list.
With an untapped natural setting and beautiful locations to visit, it is not surprising that Myanmar was included in Lonely Planet’s best of travel list in 2017. It is now considered one of the most desired places to visit in South East Asia.
The recent growth to the tourist sector is ensuring lots of employment opportunities for locals, contributing around $4.6 billion to the economy which is approximately 6.6% of the country’s GDP.
A quick look at the numbers reveals that, in 2016, the country had an estimated 2.9 million foreign tourists visit. The numbers also show that there has been a big surge in arrivals to destinations such as Bagan and Inle Lake. There has also been a significant increase in domestic tourists who make up 1/3 of the total GDP contribution from tourism.
Myanmar is ranked second by the World Travel and Tourism Council as the country with the most long-term growth potential in the next 10 years. This long term projection could lead to a total of 2.4 million jobs in the tourism sector, up from 1.6 million that there are currently.
Understanding how important the tourism sector is, Myanmar government officials have made it a priority in the country’s “export strategy”. The government has also created a Tourism Master Plan which will run until 2020. The plan has a strategic focus on improving and building more infrastructure and developing existing key destinations sustainably. The plan is to do this through effective management and planning.
Yet, while the growth potential of the tourism sector is huge, there are many factors which pose a threat to developing sustainable tourism. Some of these reasons include a shortage of skilled workers, poor waste management and infrastructural challenges. Strong management is going to be needed to be able to overcome these issues.
Myanmar’s tourism industry is at an important junction right now – between growth of the sector and sustainability. Currently the sector is akin to a double-edged sword. While there is a lot of promise of new job creation and rising income, many of the key tourist destinations are ill-prepared to handle a mass influx of tourists. However, if the government, private sector, civil society, development partners and the local residents all join hands and work together, they can overcome the significant challenges and Myanmar can become one of the top tourist destinations in South East Asia over the next decade.