Hopes are high that China’s swelling middle-class travellers will be able to help steer Myanmar’s lagging tourism industry to recovery.
As many longhaul markets continue to shrink for Myanmar, China has emerged the front runner in arrivals. Yangon International Airport welcomed 80 per cent more Chinese visitors in the first eight months of 2019, based on the latest available figures.
Sammy Samuels, managing director of Myanmar Shalom, said: “The Chinese are playing a key role in stimulating the tourism industry’s recovery.”
He added that the spike in visitors from China is helping fill hotels, with some starting to see full occupancy, while there have been reports of large groups taking hot air balloon trips in Bagan.
Pan Pacific Hotels Group’s two Yangon-based properties have been “encouraged” by the uptick in interest from China – now its strongest source market – amid slumping markets, said Neo Soon Hup, executive vice-president, operations.
An increase in charter flight connections to Chinese destinations will spur greater awareness of Myanmar as a travel destination, noted Khiri Travel Myanmar general manager Melissa Tan, and subsequently more “discerning segments will follow”.
But to truly tap into China’s potential as a visitor source market, Myanmar needs to promote experiences away from what can be had in China – and they need to be accessible, she added.
“We also need to proactively promote multiple facets of the country rather than being seen as solely Buddhism-led experiences, which limits attracted market segments,” Tan said.