Myanmar’s tourism sector is set for a boost when the government unveils its first-ever tourism master plan later this month to manage the steady influx of foreigners who began to pour into the country in 2010 after decades of military rule.
The plan, amounting to nearly $500 million for 2013-2020, is backed by technical assistance from the Asian Development Bank and funded by a grant from the Norwegian government. It comes as the country braces for a tourism boom expected to bring 7.5 million visitors and $20.1 billion in income by 2020. Myanmar posed a 30 percent increase in foreign arrivals last year, recording for the first time over one million visitors.
But how can tourism help develop the country?
“I think tourism, when it’s properly, managed can actually provide a tremendous incentive to protect both tangible and intangible heritage and can also help revive interest in cultural industries and the preservation of indigenous knowledge,” Steven Schipani, ADB project officer in charge of administering the bank’s technical assistance for Myanmar, told Devex.
Under the seven-year plan, tourism-related jobs are expected to rise from 293,700 in 2012 to 1.49 million by 2020, ensuring that the social and economic benefits of tourism are “distributed equitably.”
The blueprint — of which Devex obtained the final draft ahead of its official release later this month — covers 38 priority projects worth a total of $486.6 million, under six strategic programs:
Strengthening Myanmar’s institutional environment
Building human resource capacity
Bolstering safeguards and procedures for destination planning and management
Developing quality products and services
Upgrading connectivity and tourism-related infrastructure
Improving the image of Myanmar tourism
Schipani said half of the total budget, or about $250 million, has been earmarked for boosting connectivity and tourism-related infrastructure, essential in such an underdeveloped country.
But barriers stand in the way of Myanmar delivering on its bright tourism prospects, which Schipani said the plan aims to overcome in order for the country to catch up with its neighbors in the Greater Mekong Subregion like Thailand or Vietnam.
“One of the key challenges in Myanmar right now is that infrastructure is lacking,” he said, citing inadequate power, water and electricity supplies in both urban and rural areas, even as Myanmar’s gateway airport in Yangon remains sufficient.
“These are the bottlenecks in terms of catalyzing private sector investment. We need the public infrastructure to allow that to happen,” added Schipani.
Another obstacle is the lack of trained human resources in the tourism industry.
“We have a very capable civil service in the Myanmar tourism sector for senior and middle-level managers in terms of tourism management, but as we go down to the destination level, they need quite a bit of strengthening. Not only is there a shortage in tourism managers from the public sector side, but also of trained tourism workers,” he said.
ADB expands its presence in Myanmar
Almost a quarter of a centry after withdrawing from the country in 1988, ADB opened an office in Myanmar in 2012.
Schipani told Devex the bank is angling to open a resident mission in the country to help the government implement the tourism master plan, as well as the bank’s country partnership strategy to be rolled out in the coming year.
ADB’s assistance to Myanmar focuses on enhancing energy and power distribution, upgrading the transportation network, urban development (water and sanitation), agriculture and education.
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