Interview: U Ohn Maung
To what extent does the new Tourism Law address the concerns of both local and foreign tour operators, and ecotourism players?
U OHN MAUNG: The Tourism Law was enacted on September 17, 2018 with the objective of developing responsible businesses. Its focus is on the international marketing of Myanmar as a tourist destination, and it also protects the rights of travellers, including those travelling for business. An objective of the law is to protect the rights of tourism operators and ensure they understand their responsibilities. A key change in the new Tourism Law concerns the delegation of powers to state and regional governments: they will now be able to issue licences to hotels, lodging houses and other businesses in the tourism industry. With regards to the impact on ecotourism, this division is managed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, rather than the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism (MoHT). Licensed travel agents therefore typically consult with their respective ecotourism site authorities to arrange ecotourism programmes.
What actions is the MoHT taking to address the downturn in tourist arrivals experienced in 2018?
MAUNG: The publication of some reports on the Rakhine issue by foreign media has led to a decrease in visitor arrivals from western countries on political grounds. However, visitor numbers from Thailand, China and other Asian countries are increasing. In order to leverage this trend, Myanmar has changed visa requirements for tourists from Japan, South Korea, and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao, so that these visitors will no longer need a visa to enter the country. Lastly, a visa on arrival system has been granted to Chinese tourists arriving from mainland China.
We have also created a new brand for tourism promotion called “Myanmar: Be Enchanted”. To ensure effective marketing and promotion, marketing committees have already been formed in China, South Korea, Japan, ASEAN countries and Europe. In addition, a local committee has been formed with the objectives of increasing the number of marketable destinations and facilitating visitors’ movement within the country.
How is the MoHT extending the average length of stay for tourists in Myanmar?
MAUNG: Myanmar benefits from being a year-round tourist destination. The government is taking the following steps to aid the industry to capitalise on this: supporting the expansion of scheduled inbound flights; implementing the visa relaxation programme at international airports and border crossings; improving business and investment conditions; and facilitating smooth and efficient access to destinations. Furthermore, we are opening new tourism sites with the development of community-based tourism in some states and regions. With regards to tourism-related infrastructure, we are working with the other ministries to upgrade roads and bridges to enhance mobility and access to remote tourist attractions across the country.
How do you assess the potential to increase government participation within the international tourism and travel business community?
MAUNG: It is important that the government leads the private sector when promoting Myanmar’s tourism destinations at international tourism fairs, exhibitions, roadshows and exchange programmes. A memorandum of understanding on tourism cooperation was signed between the Directorate of Hotels and Tourism and the Japan Tourism Agency on September 21, 2018. This will strengthen the relationship between the two countries, facilitate economic development and boost tourism as a whole.
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