Myanmar capital abuzz with international meet

By Achara Deboonme | Source: The Nation
More than 900 delegates arrived at the capital of Myanmar yesterday, getting ready for the first international meeting the country has hosted in 60 years.

Tourism and Asean integration were the first two topics presented at the World Economic Forum on East Asia 2013, designed to open the country to the global community and address the challenges that block further regional integration.

Upon arrival at the brand-new international airport, the delegates from 55 countries were sent to hotels in the capital, where many are under construction. Completed last year, the airport that normally caters to three flights a day became busy, with chartered flights carrying in guests mainly from Bangkok.

Once quiet with scarce traffic, the main road in the city is now buzzing with vehicles – from big buses to vans – ready to shuttle guests from their hotels to the Myanmar International Convention Centre standing tall on an eight-lane road. The brand-new MICC hall was packed as delegates sought to register. Compared with late last year when it hosted a Euromoney forum, the MICC shows it is better prepared to serve international guests, with much stronger Wi-Fi covering the entire premise.

Throughout the day, no blackout was witnessed at the centre, despite the notoriety of the country’s energy shortages. In one tweet on #WEF, a delegate hoped that the troupe wouldn’t lead to a power outage. Blackouts did strike a few times on Tuesday.

Infrastructure insufficiency will certainly come to the fore if Myanmar accomplishes its plans to draw more investment and international tourists.

Yesterday, senior leaders of Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines signed a letter of intent to collaborate with government agencies and other stakeholders to facilitate travel in the region by developing a common smart-visa system. They also agreed to work together towards the Asean Common Visa initiative as called upon by leaders at the Asean Summit, which took place in Jakarta in November 2011. It also builds on the single-visa scheme for tourists travelling between Cambodia and Thailand, which was implemented on January 1 this year.

At a session, Htay Aung, Myanmar’s minister of hotels and tourism, highlighted four priorities to ensure sustainable tourism development.

First, he sees the need to educate the Myanmar people about tourism, through good and bad examples in other countries. Second, he asked foreign travellers to show respect for customs and traditions. Third, Myanmar is seeking community involvement in tourism development.

“Tourism is a human industry. When we improve tourism, we must take care of human responses.”

Fourth, the 2013-20 Tourism Master Plan is ready for implementation, which requires cooperation from both the private sector in the country and the international community.

“We intend to use it to give people and the country a better life,” he said. For sustainability, visitors to Myanmar must feel the urge to come back, “not only to Yangon, but also to Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw”.

Generating 1.2 per cent of gross domestic product, Myanmar’s tourism industry is expected to grow in line with Asian growth. Last year, tourism generated 8.6 per cent of GDP and employed 8 per cent of available workers.

Tony Fernandes, chief executive officer of budget carrier AirAsia, believes in the potential of Myanmar. He is ready to help train Myanmar people for growth. The AirAsia Academy has now trained 52 cabin crew and 20 pilots from Myanmar.

Notably, at the event yesterday, he disclosed that AirAsia would launch a direct Bangkok-Nay Pyi Taw route in a few months.