With the ultimate goal to increase tourism across Southeast Asia, Myanmar is exploring the “two countries, one destination” concept, which seeks to cross-promote tourism with both Cambodia and Thailand. Officials in Myanmar would like to emulate Thailand’s success in attracting foreign tourists – some 32m in 2016 – while Thailand’s operators recognise that Myanmar’s unspoilt landscape is an attraction. In 2016, 490,000 travellers visited both countries on the same trip. Myanmar had 2.9m foreign visitors, according to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism (MoHT), with Thais topping the list, accounting for 19% of the total. Chinese tourists came second at 14%, while Japanese and South Koreans accounted for 8% and 5%, respectively.
In February 2017 the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Myanmar Tourism Federation (MTF) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to engage in a campaign to promote cross-border travel. They aim to more than triple the number of visitors between the neighbouring nations to 1.5m by 2020. Myanmar authorities have reportedly asked Thailand to help provide an intensive Thai-language training programme for local guides and tourism management courses for Myanmar’s tourism operators.
Local tourism sector stakeholders hope the MoU will increase the number of tourists visiting Myanmar during the so-called green season, which runs from spring to late summer. “Myanmar has always been very quiet during the green season as tourists, who want to end their holiday at a beach, had difficulties finding a sunny seaside in Myanmar,” Daw May Myat Mon Win, the MTF’s vice-chairman, told local media. “Together with Thailand, we want to encourage tourists to visit all the cultural sites in Myanmar, also from June [until] September, and enjoy the last part of their holiday at the beach in Ko Samui and other islands where it’s the dry season in this period and the weather is sunny.”
Ease of Travel
Entry over land between Myanmar and Thailand is possible with an electronic visa (e-visa) via three official border posts: Tachileik, Myawaddy and Kawthaung. An e-visa smooths the travelling process by allowing up to three border crossings during one trip.
In addition, more than 25 daily flights operate between the two countries, connecting Bangkok and Chiang Mai with destinations such as Yangon, Naypyidaw and Mandalay, according to the MTF.
As part of a reciprocal campaign with Cambodia, the MoHT has announced provisional plans to establish direct flights between Bagan and Siem Reap. Bagan received almost 300,000 tourists in 2016, while Siem Reap saw 2.2m visitors. The success of the campaign hinges on establishing flights between the two cities, as well as a system that allows tourists holding a visa from either Cambodia or Myanmar to travel without obtaining another.
The nearest airport to Bagan, Nyaung U Airport, cannot currently handle international flights, and tourists must fly via Yangon or Mandalay to reach Bagan. Emirates Airlines began operating daily flights between Yangon and Phnom Penh on July 1, 2017. Ho Vandy, secretary-general of the Cambodia National Tourism Alliance, said the announcement was a welcome step forward after the two countries signed a MoU to more fully integrate the region several years ago. “A single-visa agreement could create a way to bring direct flights between Siem Reap and Bagan,” he said. “However, it would be better if direct flights allowed tourists to travel from Yangon to Siem Reap with a single visa.”
The deputy director-general of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, Daw Khin Than Win, said that although a bilateral agreement linking the two cities was a top priority, Myanmar Cabinet approval is required before it can be sent to Cambodian officials. In addition, negotiations with Myanmar’s Immigration Department, which has raised national security concerns about the plan, need to be finalised, according to Daw Khin Than Win. If the countries can resolve the transport and bureaucratic issues, the results could be beneficial for all.
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