On September 24th, Solimar International Chairman Don Hawkins was a panel speaker at the first Myanmar Investment Outreach Business & Investment Forum, held in New York City. The event, which was headed by Myanmar Minister at the President’s Office U Soe Thane, was organized to promote and encourage foreign direct investment in the Southeast Asian country, which is undergoing significant political and economic reform. The panel convened to discuss a myriad of topics across all sectors of the Myanmar economy.
Dr. Hawkins’ panel was asked about Myanmar’s tourism sector. After opening its doors in recent years for the first time in decades, Myanmar shows promise in becoming a major tourism destination. The Minister of Hotels and Tourism, Htay Aung, announced foreign tourist numbers have been steadily rising, up from 800,000 in 2011 to about 2 million in 2013. Such a surge in visitors has put a blatant strain on the industry, which suffers from a lack of development and infrastructure.
With such great potential, how can the sector become a pillar of the economy?
Dr. Hawkins emphasized investment. Myanmar’s international visitor arrivals are growing at about 46% a year, and in the first five months of 2014 tourism generated US$ 552 million. This figure is expected to easily surpass $1 billion by the end of the year. This is fast growing tax base which should be used to finance investment in health, education, and infrastructure, Dr. Hawkins explained.
Another important aspect Don pointed out was the industry’s high labor intensity. The tourism sector is forecasted to create over 1 million new jobs in Myanmar by 2020. The sector’s growth is poised for success, Dr. Hawkins explained, because of its foundation. The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism is one of the few ministries to have prepared a sector master plan, which lays out strategies and actions focusing on poverty alleviation, community involvement, environmental protection and good governance.
How does the country implement sustainable tourism, retaining the profits while adding value for the international players involved?
In addressing the development of sustainable tourism, Dr. Hawkins was keen to call attention to the Smithsonian Institution’s involvement in Myanmar. The Smithsonian Institution has joined the Ministry of Environmental Conservation & Forestry (MOECAF), UNDP, and Green Economy Green Growth Myanmar (GEGG) to organize a stakeholders workshop—“Building the Foundation for Natural Resources Stewardship for Sustainable, Inclusive and Equitable Development: Towards a Ten-year Strategy Framework (2015-2025)”. This workshop, which brought together Myanmar environmental NGOs and international NGOs, aims to develop a national plan for natural resource management and begin a targeted program for expanding and managing protected land and seascapes. This workshop is just one of many that are being held with regional and international stakeholders in the pursuit of sustainable development.
Over 350 people participated in the Myanmar Investment Forum, almost 150 more than expected. Such turn out reflects the promise and buzz around Myanmar’s potential. Phyo Wai Yar Zar, chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Marketing and joint secretary of the Myanmar Tourism Federation, recently announced the possibility of a “Visit Myanmar” promotion year in 2016. The tourism sector is growing rapidly and shows no signs of slowing down. Sustainable development of the sector will be of utmost importance moving forward to ensure continued success.