Feb 2, 2015

Myanmar's capital beckons

THE private sector in Myanmar has proposed short-term tourism business plans for Nay Pyi Taw to the country's government, in a bid to boost the number of international visitors to the capital and attract foreign investment, including from Thailand.

Maung Maung Swe, vice chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Federation, said last week that private tourism, hotel, airline and service businesses had proposed a package of four immediate measures in order to boost travel and related business.

The first proposal is to offer international carriers free aircraft parking for one year at Nay Pyi Taw International Airport, which would be expected to attract many more foreign airlines to fly to the city.

The second idea is to develop Nay Pyi Taw as a new port for jet-fuel supply, a measure that could be run by cutting oil taxation in order to reduce the cost of aviation fuel, he said.

The private sector believes such a measure could attract airlines that normally use Thailand or Singapore to fill their aircraft.

Currently, only two foreign airlines operate scheduled flights in and out of Nay Pyi Taw: Bangkok Airways and China Eastern Airlines.

There are also non-scheduled flights during the festive season or big events.

The third proposal in the package concerns shopping, with the private sector wanting the government to turn the capital into a new duty-free location in the region, just as major cities such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok already promote themselves as shopping destinations.

If Nay Pyi Taw could be turned into a duty-free location, it would likely be the first fully duty-free capital in the region, he said.

The final proposal is to offer visas on arrival for all foreigners landing at Nay Pyi Taw International Airport, as such a scheme should help attract a large number of visitors to the city.

"All these measures could be packaged under one big campaign.

We [the private sector] strongly believe that such a package would help turn Nay Pyi Taw into a new destination not only for tourists, but for business travellers, too," he said. "So far, however, the government is still silent on the proposals," he added.

Maung Maung Swe, who also runs SM International and SM Tour & Transport and is involved in key industrial bodies such as the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the International Investment Committee, and the Myanmar Japan Association, said the private sector, in turn, had promised the government that it would facilitate visitors through services such as free shuttle buses between the airport and all hotels in the city.

Moreover, more airlines would consider operating all-year-round services if they saw an increase in tourism demand, he said. "Many other travel packages would be added once more visitors come," he added.

According to Maung Maung Swe, though Myanmar's new capital was opened in 2005, service businesses have been emerging only in the last three years, since the opening up of the country.

Currently, aside from several private modern malls and schools, and the government's convention centre and two airports in the capital, about 60 hotels have been built by local and international chains with a total of around 6,000 rooms.

Some 95 per cent of the hotels are owned by local investors and are still suffering from a lack of business.

"Almost all of the hotel businesses invested in Nay Pyi Taw due to cheap land deals. They know that there is virtually no business today, but for them it's a matter of long-term investment," he explained.

Meanwhile, the country's huge infrastructure developments, such as land transportation and telecommunication systems as well as financial services, are expected to attract more investment from overseas, including from Thailand.

There is a report that Dusit International, one of the biggest Thai hotel chains, is interested in opening a hospitality school in Myanmar, while department-store giant Central is also eyeing major cities for new stores.

Thai companies, including DTAC (Total Access Communication), Krating Daeng, CP Group and commercial banks, have already entered the market, while many hospitals and other healthcare operators have established offices to seek customers in Myanmar.

Last year, more than 200,000 Myanmar citizens officially travelled to Thailand, mostly for working, medical check-ups and studying.

In general, they also like to travel intra-regionally, such as to Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Korea, Indonesia and Japan.

Last year, Myanmar received more than 3 million international arrivals.

The country is aiming for 5 million visitors this year.

Source: Asia One