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Burma’s tourism boom hits budget travellers

An influx of diplomatic and business delegations into Burma is threatening the sustainability of its tourism industry by shooting up prices and squeezing out budget travellers, local experts have warned.

The sudden increase in visitors is becoming a major problem for the tourism industry, which is not big enough to accommodate them, a Rangoon-based official from the Union of Myanmar Travel Association told DVB.

The price of accommodation has sky-rocketed by up to 300%, leaving budget travellers and regular tourists at a distinct disadvantage.

“There are foreign state delegations, such as the British PM recently, arriving almost every day and since they have a big budget, they would pay US $200 or $300 for accommodation,” explained the official, who wished to remain anonymous.

“It is the same with business delegations; bidding for rooms at big hotels in Rangoon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw. This also makes rates at small hotels go up and destabilises tour prices.”

Rapid fluctuations could also harm the social sustainability of Burma’s tourism industry by further enriching the elite cronies running most of the country’s luxury hotels.

“In popular tourist areas, inflation, the lack of tourism infrastructure and large-scale development projects rarely benefits all, but rather only enriches a few,” explained tourism expert Andrea Valentin in a recent DVB op-ed.

A recent Reuters report revealed that a growing number of military-backed cronies, including business tycoons Tay Za and Zaw Zaw, are setting their sights on the tourism industry as Burma’s next investment frontier.

Even US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “stayed at the Thingaha, a crony-owned hotel in Myanmar’s [Burma’s] crony-built capital city of Naypyitaw,” said the report.

Hotel room prices have raised concern within the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, which sources say has stepped in to mediate the situation. It is still unclear what strategy the government intends to pursue.

Currently, there are around 25,000 rooms available in 731 hotels across Burma. But this is not enough to accommodate the hoards of visitors arriving every day. Poor hotel services, insufficient tour guides and an unreliable transportation system are additional challenges for the struggling industry.

In 2011, over 800,000 tourists visited Burma, an increase of 30% from the previous year. The Pacific Asia Travel Association has predicted that Burma this will increase a further 25% in the year 2012.


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