Feb 6, 2012

Myanmar opening up to tourists

Myanmar looks poised to become the newest hot spot for travellers to Southeast Asia, after decades of isolation.

But amid optimism at the recent changes in the country, there are concerns that existing infrastructure may prove inadequate.

Jetting around the country in a private six-seater plane may sound a bit strange, but it is now for one's taking.

This luxury 3-night-4-day tour through Myanmar emphasises the cultural heritage of the nation - its unspoiled landscapes and ancient temples.

A little under US$6,000 per person for a group of six, the tour package comes at a time when the country is opening itself up politically and economically.

Willem Niemeijer, CEO of Khiri Travel, said: "There are enormous changes in Myanmar right now. The perception of Myanmar right now... is that you are able to visit Myanmar freely - a lot of difference from when Myanmar was a repressive... and not a free country."

Despite the changes, there is concern about a luxury tour to one of the world's least developed countries and one with 30 percent of its 60 million people under the poverty line.

Last year, Myanmar has just 400,000 tourism arrivals, in contrast to neighbouring Thailand's 17 million.

Industry watchers see enormous potential in the tourism sector, but also potential issues.

There are not enough domestic flight connections, nor enough hotel rooms and trained staff.

Another worry is that growing too fast too soon will have negative social and environmental effects.

Kyi Kyi Aye, tourism consultant to the Myanmar government, said: "We must develop tourism in a fruitful... manner, which is responsible not for only people who are coming into the country but also the people who are hosting and providing services to tourists."

But for now, glimpses of what Myanmar has to offer - from snow-capped mountains to tropical beaches - could be the next big tourist draw.

Source: Channel News Asia