DestinationsMyanmar Tourism Marketing's Myo Thwin on why decentralised decision-making is pushing tourism development for the country's 14 states.

Guest column: Keep a close eye on "leapfrogging" Myanmar

Ko Myo Thwin 210104
Myanmar, with its abundance of natural and outdoor attractions, is well placed as a destination to tap post-Covid travel demand, says Myo Thwin. Photo Credit: Myanmar Tourism Marketing

“Leapfrogging” is what some people called it. When Myanmar opened up aggressively eight years ago, the country suddenly had access to easier online e-visa application, faster mobile internet and a wide range of food choices in trendy restaurants. From lagging behind in tourism facilities, the country skipped a few steps and made sure no visitors left disappointed.

It looks like Myanmar has been thinking ahead again. The policy of “decentralised decision-making” and empowering each of the 14 states and divisions in the country has led to a boost of tourism developments in the country's remote and undiscovered areas.

The Myanmar Tourism Strategic Recovery Roadmap has set out a core vision to focus on destination development and positive social and economic impacts for the local community through tourism. All state and divisions plan their own strategies in alignment with this roadmap, and DMOs have been formed and empowered to develop tourism in their area.

The future of post-Covid travel will focus on avoiding crowds, social distancing, visiting open-air places or well ventilated attractions, and visiting a country in a safe way. And that’s exactly what Myanmar is focusing on: developing attractive tourist destinations in remote areas, zooming into open-air activities including agricultural tourism, activities such as biking and trekking, as well as a focus on natural outdoor experiences.

Areas that were not even mentioned in the most detailed travel guides a few years ago are currently seeing a boom of charming boutique hotel developments. Cities that were “off limits” to foreign tourists are now actively promoting themselves as the next place to visit. All this, with the aim to spread out the number of people in a certain area as well as the tourism dollars over a bigger area.

Taking Kayin as a sample

Zwekabin Mountain in Hpa-An, Kayin State. The state has taken the lead in Myanmar's move to speed up developments on infrastructure and tourist attractions in more remote areas.
Zwekabin Mountain in Hpa-An, Kayin State. The state has taken the lead in Myanmar's move to speed up developments on infrastructure and tourist attractions in more remote areas.

Probably one of the best examples of developing new tourist destinations is Kayin State, about a five hours’ drive from Yangon. Its capital Hpa-An used to look a bit grim and it was hard to find a proper restaurant, a good hotel or even a tourist guide—it simply wasn’t interesting enough for tourists.

Visit the place now and you will feel a very positive and energetic atmosphere and sense an eagerness to show off Kayin's culture and nature. Tourist attractions have opened up: there are more caves to visit, a boat ride is now possible on the Thanlwin River, hiking paths have been upgraded for visitors to enjoy views of the limestone mountains, and a lively night market has been developed on the riverside.

The state managed to attract investors and now boost several excellent four-star hotels and resorts that are becoming more popular with domestic and foreign tourists. The Chief Minister of the state Nang Khin Htwe Myint is also helping to get the traditional Kayin dance listed in the UNESCO world intangible heritage list.

Most importantly, probably, is that Kayin state has the right factors to attract post-Covid travellers. A lot of the attractions are open air and breezy, allowing the flow of tourists to be easily managed. As well, decisions are made locally on the ground to make sure every tourist experiences a safe and healthy Kayin state.

This is why moving forward, the country is expecting more remote areas to speed up developments on infrastructure and tourist attractions, for example in Kayah state (Demoso township), Sagaing Division as well as Dawei in Tanintharyi Division and the Kalaw region.

It’s not only good news for tourists—the decentralisation also very much leads to more engagement from local communities to welcome tourists and to develop a sense of pride for their own regional culture and heritage.

Keep a close eye on Myanmar. Because as shown before, the country knows how to leapfrog and move fast in the right direction to develop more remote, outdoor destinations that are perfect for the post Covid travel experiences your clients are looking for.

Myo Thwin is currently the chairman at Myanmar Tourism Marketing, vice chair of the Myanmar Tourism Federation and a public servant member of Tourism Executive Committee of Union of Myanmar. He is also managing director at Sweet Memory Travel and also sits on the board of director at Zwekapin Valley Resort & Spa and Dawna Alliance.

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