Interview: U Nay Aung

What policies or measures can be adopted to foster development within the tourism sector?

U NAY AUNG: Visa exemptions are the number one issue, and are something we personally approached the government about two years ago. If you look at Thailand, they have implemented visa exemptions for 53 countries and have different arrangements with many others. For Myanmar, the government could start by relaxing the requirements for visitors from countries with citizens that have higher levels of disposable income and outbound tourist numbers, such as the US and some European nations.

Another area to look at is how visas are processed, and this is something the government needs to streamline through the policies of the Ministry of Immigration and Population. People also talk about obstacles related to infrastructure. This is important to the sector’s development; however, simply allowing visitors from certain countries to enter Myanmar with greater ease will help accelerate infrastructural development. In addition, we have plans to do more in the way of adhering to international standards. For example, if providers of accommodation want to be branded as a two- or three-star hotels, they need to have and maintain certain features, sometimes as basic as hot water and air conditioning.

We must also allow the use of technology to foster development. For example, we have launched a ground transportation system and hotel operating software. Globally, the trend is moving more towards cloud computing, which is good for five-star hotels, but is not as beneficial for smaller hotels. So what we did was develop a web-based system that possessed the same features as those found in larger hotels and started distributing it for free to smaller businesses.

The government should work with us to develop these systems. You would be surprised at how many hotels still use paper ledgers to record bookings. Every economy and industry starts with demand. If you create enough demand, these things have a way of sorting themselves out through necessity. This is why if I were to recommend one policy change, it would be more visa exemptions.

Myanmar was under sanctions for some time. How do you think that has impacted the mentality of service workers in the industry?

NAY AUNG: Human capital is a real challenge. An analogy I can give relates to Silicon Valley engineers. The top 10% of engineers in India are as good as their American counterparts, it is just that the remaining 90% are not as comparable in terms of quality. This applies for service workers in Myanmar, and is due in largely to the lack of exposure.

The standardisation of service levels will come from some of the well-managed hotels and other companies. Educational and training programmes are also required, and there needs to be a proliferation of certification programmes that the government can give accreditation to and support.

How has the expansion of the telecoms market filtered into the wider economy?

NAY AUNG: ICT will help accelerate growth in the tourism sector. Most hotels are already taking bookings through the internet; it is a great sales channel for the industry, but it does not always trickle down to everyone else. Nonetheless, businesses can utilise ICT to fulfil certain requirements, and it can also help to create really strong distribution channels. One of the first priorities of the government was the liberalisation of the telecoms sector, as it was the first industry they deregulated, followed by finance and electricity. I have no doubt that the state places great importance on these sectors; however, we must now be more industry specific and work with businesses to learn what is really needed to enhance the development and boost the growth of certain sectors.