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File picture of a lone foreign tourist riding a bike in Bagan. Photo: Hong Sar / Mizzima

Twenty more tourist-police will be assigned to Bagan to curb tourists robbery, on August 20, a police officer of the Tourist Police Force (Bagan) told Mizzima. The total number of tourist-police will be raised to 50 thereafter.

Police officer Khaing Win of the Tourist Police Force (Bagan) said, “Robberies are happening frequently and it is not good for both Bagan and the country. So, to protect (tourists) from (robbery), we will have a discussion with local leaders and township chiefs. Then we will carry out a plan to curb it.”

Most robberies occur in deserted areas. Generally, it does not occur to the tourists who come with Tour packages as they are in groups and accompanied by tourist guides of their respective tour company. Usually the victims are F.I.T (Foreign Independent Traveler). The authorities will issue alert warnings about robberies in hotels and tourist sites, according to officer  Khaing Win.

A Bagan resident said that on the evening of August 3, a Frenchman was beaten up and robbed on the way to the Alodawpye Temple. In previous cases, robbers only snatched things from tourists. But the robbery on August 3 shows that the situation is getting worse. The robbers are becoming bolder and have started attacking tourist.

Zaw Win Cho, the Chairman of Bagan Tourist Guides Association said, “It does not happen in other tourist sites in the county. It is happening only in Bagan. It reflects poorly on the image of Bagan. It happened again in spite all of us were trying to prevent it. To ensure safety, we plan to have a meeting which will be attended by officials of all relevant Ministries in Bagan.”

In February this year, there were 3 cases of foreign tourists robbery. Robbery was also reported in March and May, too. In July, Taiwanese citizens were robbed.

Since March, tourist police officers have been assigned to tourist sites in Bagan, Yangon, Mandalay, Shan State and Naypyitaw.

According to the figure compiled by the Hotels and Tourism Ministry, about one million foreign tourists visited Myanmar in 2012.

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Photo: Hongsar / Mizzima

Tour tickets by many travel and tour companies in Myanmar declined by about 40 percent this year.

Despite a greater number of travelers than last year’s record high, most of the travelers to Myanmar are foreign businessmen and the number of package tours declined this year.

The number of travelers reached a record high number of one million in 2012 and it was expectedto rise further, however, the travelers are in Free Individual Tour (FIT) and the number of package tours was still low, said a tour industry group.

Aye Kyaw, a member of the Hotel and Tourism Entrepreneurs Association, said that the cost of travel in Myanmar is about three times more than that of neighboring countries.

“Myanmar has become infamous around the world for its high hotel prices. The travelers are upset with this,” he said.

“The sale of tour tickets by most of the travel and tour companies in Myanmar declined by about 40 percent this year over last year,” he added.

Myanmar’s tourism industry declined from 2007 onwards but picked up again in early 2011. Myanmar was then faced with the problem of having an inadequate number of hotel rooms to accommodate all these travelers in 2012.

A night’s stay at Shangri-La Hotel Group run hotel, Traders, in Yangon is US$235 per day in comparison with $122 in Hong Kong and $197 in Singapore, according to the Shangri-La website.

A member of Myanmar Tourist Guides’ Association Sai Win Sone said, “Wealthy tourists from the US and England come to Myanmar despite higher cost, but the tourists from other European countries chose cheaper Thai, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia as their holiday destinations.”

Each tour operator in Myanmar had 10 package tours on average per month, which had at least 25 tourists in each group but this year this number declined to an average of five package tour groups.

Another tour guide said, “Sometimes we had to merge these groups into one as the numbers were very low.”

Managing Director of Nature Dream Travel & Tours SabeAung said, “The hotel room rates are high but the service is poor, cannot catch up with neighboring countries.”

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Due to heavy tourist demand, the UN have been forced  to move out of the Traders Hotel in Yangon.

The UN is preparing to vacate office space in Yangon’s Traders Hotel later this month as Myanmar’s tourism grows and demand for hotel rooms rises in the country’s largest city.

As the UN presence across Myanmar expanded to 2,000 since 2007, it was provided with rooms on five floors of the Shangri-La Asia Ltd-operated hotel by the Myanmar government.

“This development has been ongoing for sometime,” said Aye Win, the national information officer for the UN in Myanmar. “The last time the offices’ leases were renewed [in July 2012], we knew it was the final time.”

The organization is similarly moving out of its space on the grounds of Yangon’s Inya Lake Hotel further north of the city.

The International Labor Organization has already found a new base, while other branches of the UN are still looking for suitable locations.

“Before, it was most convenient for the agencies to share the common services of the hotels,” said Aye Win. “But now every hotel is going back to its original purpose.”

With an increase in tourist numbers to Myanmar from 731,230 in 2008 to 1,058,995 in 2012, once empty hotels have now been filled. Rising demand has sent hotel prices through the roof—with rooms in Traders Hotel costing US$235 per night.

Office space has also become rare and extremely expensive in the city at around $75-$150 per sq.m per month as international firms move in and occupy limited space.

The Shangri-La Residence will open near Kandawgyi Lake later this year with 800-rooms, including apartments and offices.

At the end of June, the city’s first co-working space, Project Hub Yangon, opened near the Park Royal Hotel to provide a temporary office for the city’s influx of ex-pat freelancers and consultants.

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Pandaw builds replicas of the Irrawaddy Flotilla fleet that once navigated Burmese waters during British colonial times. Photo: Pandaw River Expeditions in Asia

Pandaw River Expeditions have announced that they will construct two new ships in Myanmar at the Sinmalike shipyard in Yangon.

The Pandaw fleet comprises replicas of the famous Irrawaddy Flotilla paddle steamers which once graced the Irrawaddy River during British colonial times. The two new K-plus class vessels, 56 meters in length, have 20 staterooms for passengers. The ship’s shallow draft of less than one meter allows it to navigate narrow channels and low tides even in dry season.

“It is wonderful to be building again in Burma where we started nearly 20 years ago,” said Pandaw founder Paul Strachan. “There is a lot of ship-building know-how there, and we can achieve the ultra shallow drafts so essential for the extreme low water conditions now prevailing.”

The new vessels are expected to be in service by July 2014 and will join a fleet of two others which carry mostly international travelers on cruises on the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers, taking in sites in Mandalay and Bagan en route.

Pandaw River Expeditions also offers tours on the Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam, and on the Rajang River in Borneo.

During Cyclone Nargis in 2008, the Scots firm donated one of its ships to a British NGO to be used as a mobile medical center, and the company continues to be involved in several charity projects throughout the country.

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c1943. Australians and British POWs work on the Burma-Thailand railway track. Many of this A Force group, were captured in Java.(Credit: Australian War Memorial)

A museum commemorating the WWII ‘Death Railway’ has been shelved because of outstanding land issues, said managing director of Ta La Mon Travels and Tour Company which was originally scheduled to renovate the property.

Naing Maung Toe said that his firm already has permission to open the museum from the Mon State government, but that the project was constantly delayed because of a land dispute.  

He added that his travel company had prepared well for this venture and that the museum had a list of donors who had items or paraphernalia they intended to present to the project.

Dr. Min Nwe Soe, the Mon State Minister of Planning and Economics, said that it is necessary to look what “mutual benefits” the Death Railway Museum would bring to the region, and that he proposed discussing the issue with civic groups. He added that the original plan was to rent the property on a 30-40 year lease under a BOT (Build-operate-transfer) agreement.

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Wondrous sites such as the ancient Buddhist kingdom of Bagan are sure to lure international visitors to Myanmar in the coming years.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced at the WEF on Wednesday that it had agreed a Myanmar tourism plan valued at nearly half a billion dollars that will help increase Myanmar’s tourism competitiveness, protect environmentally important areas, and safeguard ethnic communities.

In a statement, ADB said the plan was agreed in coordination with the Myanmar and Norwegian governments, and would involve 38 specific development projects.

“This master plan outlines a path to welcoming more visitors to Myanmar without threatening our unique cultural heritage or endangering pristine environments,” said Htay Aung, Myanmar’s Minister for Hotels and Tourism.

If Myanmar continues implementing economic, political, and social reforms, international visitor arrivals are forecast to rise as high as 7.5 million in 2020—a seven-fold increase from current numbers—with corresponding tourism receipts worth $10.1 billion, said ADB, adding that the tourism industry could provide up to 1.4 million jobs by 2020.

“Tourism will be a pillar of Myanmar’s economy, and it has the potential to create meaningful job opportunities for the country’s people, including those living in poor communities,” said ADB Vice-President Stephen Groff. “This plan is a long-term vision, and a solid start to ensuring tourism contributes to equitable social and economic development in Myanmar.”

For more news from the World Economic Forum, click HERE

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