May 10, 2011

Myanmar to resume visa on arrival in late 2011

Myanmar’s new government will probably resume visa on arrivals for all visitors at its international airports, some time this year, according to a reliable source at Myanmar Airways International.

Over the last month, the government allowed a limited VOA for passengers on MAI flights from Guangzhou and Siem Reap as an experiment after it suspended the facility, 1 September, last year, in the run-up to a general election.

The government still has a 20% stake in MAI while private investors with close links to the military hold 80%.

The limited VOA started last February for passengers travelling on MAI’s new Siem Reap-Yangon flights and then for passengers from Guangzhou, 21 March.

MAI launched flights to Siem Reap and Guangzhou on 23 February and 3 March respectively.

The visa service is an exclusive deal for MAI passengers and offers the airline, which is closely linked to the ruling generals, a commercial advantage over other airlines serving Myanmar. However, not even MAI can secure the same privilege on the important Bangkok-Yangon route and airline officials indicate that such an option was not under discussion.

The airline confirmed that its exclusive VOA arrangement was not a “pre-arranged visa” for pick-up at the airport. If that was the case it would have require a passenger to book a seat by a certain cut-off date to allow visa approval to be processed in advance of the departure.

“This is a standard VOA with no pre-arrangement needs,” an airline official explained. “If the visa applicant is rejected at the airport we will have to fly the passenger back under the arrangement.”

However, the source did confirm that it was now possible that within three months the government will extend the VOA scheme to all airports.

“It’s inevitable, as a VOA would benefit the country’s tourism long-term so it cannot remain just a feature for one airline,” the source said.

Myanmar’s government introduced the visa-on-arrival, 1 May last year, for passengers travelling to the country through Yangon and Mandalay International airports.

The tourist visa fee was US$30 for a stay of up to 28 days. A visa applied through the embassy takes three to four day, but there is also an express option available in one day at extra cost.

Business travellers complain that the three-day processing time hinders both tourism and trade.

According to Myanmar’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism’s during the first six months of the 2009-2010 fiscal year (April to September 2010), which covered the VOA period, arrivals to Myanmar through the Yangon International Airport increased by 33.71% from 83,047 to 111,044.

During the ASEAN Tourism Forum, a high ranking ministry officials confirmed that the VOA scheme would return but in “stages to gauge response.”

It would probably occur later this year in the run-up to the main tourist season that starts in November, possibly in markets such as India, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore first.

Source: Myanmar Business News