Interview: U Htay Aung

What infrastructure development priorities have been identified to facilitate travel in Myanmar?

U HTAY AUNG: Infrastructure development is one of the most important fundamentals in building the country. To facilitate travel, the government has invited international investors to develop Hanthawaddy International Airport and upgrade Mandalay International Airport. A third facility, Naypyidaw International Airport, has been in operation since 2011 for international and domestic travel. The Ministry of Transport is inviting local private investors to upgrade 30 of its 69 facilities to improve underdeveloped domestic air transport capacity, infrastructure and technology. The skeleton of the country’s land transportation network, the YangonNaypyidaw-Mandalay Highway Road, will soon be upgraded while the safety and security of highway roads is enhanced. Furthermore, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the government are preparing to improve a 70-km section of the East-West Economic Corridor (EWEC) between Myawaddy and Hpa-an, which will facilitate the flow of overland travel between central Thailand and Yangon. Public train service has been upgraded to attract more international travellers while other transport, such as coaches and river cruises, continue to improve services to satisfy increased demand from domestic and international tourists.

How can Myanmar sustain the high increase in overseas visitors? Can these numbers be guaranteed to grow alongside expanding capacity?

AUNG: Myanmar is a vast country of diverse attractions with huge potential for tourism development. By improving service quality, easing travel restrictions and enhancing awareness of the destination, it could sustain such an increase. Tourism has risen drastically following the opening of Myanmar’s borders and the implementation of strategy reforms, with the aviation industry expected to grow rapidly in conjunction. The increase of business travellers and arrival of international airlines will also boost overseas visitors. Tourism is a service industry, and the nation is well positioned to develop capacity in line with increasing arrivals. Many international travellers are waiting to enter and enjoy Myanmar’s tourism resources, which are truly pristine in relation to other more congested and exhausted destinations in the region.

What steps is the government taking to ensure local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) capitalise on the trend of escalating tourism?

AUNG: SMEs can benefit directly and indirectly from tourist expenditures and, with the help of loans and aid from international institutions and donor countries, they can improve their standards and quality. The ADB’s 2014 country programme for Myanmar includes preparation for a pilot project promoting women-led microenterprises in selected towns in the Kayin and Mon states along the EWEC. Likewise, the Ministry of Industry will establish SME offices and centres in the major cities of Naypyidaw and Yangon, as well as various other towns, to further promote SME growth.

How are closer ties with ASEAN member nations being managed, and what comparative advantages does Myanmar enjoy in the tourism sector?

AUNG: Regional understanding and relationships can be strengthened through ASEAN summits and activities. Myanmar’s abundant tourism resources, such as historical sites, natural scenic beauty, colourful cultures and friendly people, give it an advantage over competitors. The sector is likewise aided by the 2011-15 ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan, which aims to market member countries as a single tourist destination and promote sustainable tourism, a key step towards realising the ASEAN Economy Community by 2015. Biannual meetings of ASEAN National Tourism Organisations and annual gatherings of tourism ministers at the ASEAN Tourism Forum help address key focuses, such as the mobility of tourism professionals, the development of quality tourism and enhanced connectivity.