November 21, 2017

Strengthening Myanmar’s Tourism Industry

  • A Snap Shot into 10 Global Tourism Strategies

  • Ye Myat Tun
  • Tourists taking the bullock carts for sightseeing in Bagan, Mandalay Region.

Call me partial, but I think Myanmar has some of the world’s greatest heritage sites. Ask most natives and they will agree. Our temples rival Ankor Wat, our ancient cities are remarkably preserved and accessible, and our people are voted time and time again the friendliest and most authentic in Asia. So, why, then, have most never heard of the big brother adjacent to Thailand?
Officials and laymen all agree- now is the time to visit Myanmar. Crippling international sanctions have been lifted, the country is modernizing rapidly, and the cloistered era of cultural purity and authenticity is waning. In twenty years, the country will be quite different. It has changed remarkably in the past five. How much longer will buffalo carts roam the streets? Will smiling faces adorned with fragrant yellow thanaka evolve to become Sephora-painted canvases? Perhaps, and it is fitting. It is my aim to reach those longing to capture the last few years of the last untouched Southeast Asian culture, before my great country becomes everything that its citizens dream of.

MraukU is a well-known site of ancient temples and pagodas in Rakhine State.

I propose a call to action: that our citizens take the responsibility of marketing the country personally. Spreading awareness is as simple as creating a Facebook page. Investing in our country is every citizen’s duty and in the best interest of all. In addition, for those possessing higher clout who are paying attention, I’d like to pass on inspiration by sharing some interesting strategies and best practices successfully adopted and implemented by other countries. Most of the countries listed freely share their strategic plans online in PDF format:

1) Let’s Get Personal: The wildly popular skiing community of Aspen, Colorado (USA) has created a personal connection between locals and tourists. They have implemented the “Adopt a Tourist Program,” where discounts are offered to locals and tourists who team together and share experiences. This is a great way for Myanmar locals to improve their English or chosen second language and develop strong international connections.

People cross U Bein bridge over Tuangthaman Lake in Mandalay.

2) Let’s Clean House: The Chinese government uncovered a local problem that was a hindrance to tourism, and I think it might hit close to home for us. Many complaints by foreign tourists were about unsanitary conditions in public toilets. Thus began the “toilet revolution” of China- a renovation project of as many as 100,000 public toilets still in the works today.

3) Let’s Get Back to our Ethnic Roots: New Zealand is advertising authentic cultural experiences by capitalizing on their Maori heritage by launching New Zealand Maori Tourism in 2004. The Maori Arts and Crafts Institute puts New Zealand on the map as a major tourist site. Locals and students display carving, weaving, and storytelling to travelers on Maori cultural tours. I have a vision of cultural tours geared towards our ethic groups: Shan, Kayin, Mon, etc.

4) Let’s Look to the Future: In 2007, the Tourism Ministry of Turkey produced an official document that rocked the international tourism industry- the ambitious Tourism Strategy for 2023. Their objective is to “become one of the top five visited countries in the world, therefore generating mass tourism revenue.” Turkey has many obstacles to overcome, starting with how the world has historically viewed the country. Improvements have been made along the coasts, the road systems, and internationally sponsored golfing events seeing the likes of Tiger Woods.

Ngwesaung beach in Pathein, Ayeyawady Region.

5) Let’s Develop the Little Man: Canada’s Federal Tourism Strategy recognizes that while major hotel chains, airlines, and tour operators are important, 98% of their tourism sector consists of small and medium-sized local businesses. Therefore, creating a favorable atmosphere for these businesses to flourish is essential. For Myanmar, that means promoting and supporting the local hotels, restaurants, and tour companies.

6) Let’s Ask Big Brother for Help: Ireland’s Tourism Action Plan 2016-2018 is in full swing, employing admirable, long-term tourism tactics that exceed marketing and promotion and delve into restructuring government procedures. Recognizing that each tourist destination needs to have an edge over competing markets, these governments have supported significant financial investments in essential physical infrastructure, events and activities, and promotion, all to be carried out in 23 actions addressing issues ranging from involvement with local authorities to visitor accommodation capacity.
7) Let’s Get Smart: 2017 is the age of smart technology. Cebu City in the Philippines has learned to capitalize on the smart phone application craze. Officials have developed a smartphone app to market local events, chiefly their annual Sinulog Festival. The guide includes the story of the festival as well as listings of places to stay during the Sinulog, information on heritage tours, and where to sample local cuisine. Hello, Thingyan App, complete with a list of open eateries and events during the festival!

8) Let’s Own Our Online Business Presence: Canada has launched The Meetings, Conventions, and Incentive Travel Program (MC&IT) to generate business leads for Canadian partners. Their multilingual website engages high-yield customers and encourages them to host their events in Canada.

9) Let’s Get Talking: Realizing that Jamaica’s Tourism relied heavily on word of mouth, the country’s tourist board launched the 2004 campaign: “Once you go, you know.” It has been wildly successful and is still in motion. They spread the word that their exotic country was a friendly and safe place for the entire family. Myanmar would do well to adopt this reputation.

10) Let’s #Campaign: Part of the GREAT British Campaign (#OMGB- Oh My Great Britain) is to encourage prior visitors to return and visit all of Great Britain via social media. The #OMGB social campaign invited travelers to share travel pictures on social media using the campaign hashtag. The successful campaign generated over £800 million in additional visitor purchases and spending by overseas tourists and £12.7 million in partner funding for their inbound activity in 2015/ 2016.

Now is the time to visit Myanmar, and now is the time to kick-start a massive promotional program to boost our economy. There is no need to wait on a major national project, though having one would be splendid. Locals can take to their new smartphones now and tweet away with their thumbs to bring Myanmar to the top of Southeast Asian tourism destinations.

Ye Myat Tun is a local hotelier, entrepreneur, and consultant with 20 years of hospitality management experience locally and overseas in the USA and Caribbean.

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