Myanmar: Tourist boom sees hotel jostling for position

On the move: Bob Percival, who is a walking tour guide in Yangon.
On the move: Bob Percival, who is a walking tour guide in Yangon. Photo: Supplied

A few years ago, Australian expat Bob Percival was writing a novel and conducting guided walks in the small village of Baisha in China. Then he discovered Myanmar.

"I moved to Yangon and started a new guiding business by forming a partnership with the already established Myanmar Tourism Company (ACL Travel)," Mr Percival said.

He is not the only expat taking advantage of Myanmar's tourism boom.

Accor South-East Asia boss Patrick Basset described Myanmar as "the last frontier for tourism in the region". The French company is planning to open six hotels there this year.

Tourism has soared from 300,000 visitors in 2010 - the year pro-democracy leader Aung Sun Su Kyi was finally released from house arrest - to 2 million tourists last year.

The Myanmar Investment Commission has granted permission for about $US2 billion ($2.28 billion) worth of investment in hotels and tourism-related business as the country of about 50 million people struggles to keep up with the influx. Under the Tourism Master Plan launched last year, Myanmar hopes to welcome 7.5 million arrivals by 2020.

Such figures have global hotel chains in urgent expansion mode: Orient-Express, which already runs The Governor's Residence, the best hotel in Yangon, has just added a new river cruiser, Orcaella, to its existing boutique ship, Road to Mandalay. Meanwhile, Peninsula Hotels has secured a property to refurbish, and Hilton and Best Western are also eyeing locations and potential local partners. Last April the company completed a deal to fit out the former Burma Railway Company building in Yangon as a five-star hotel with Australian company Meinhardt doing the refurbishment.

Pan Pacific Hotels Group announced a conditional joint venture with Myanmar's Shwe Taung Group to build a 348-room 25-storey Pan Pacific hotel in downtown Yangon.

Austrade also opened an office in Yangon last year. "Tourism is a huge growth area but at this stage it's mainly the big international companies dominating," said Melinda Tun, a Myanmar-born Sydney lawyer. "And Australians are at the forefront; the general manager of Shangri La hotels in Myanmar is Australian.

"They have just opened new luxury apartments, the Shangri La Residences, in Yangon, and are planning another hotel in a couple of years."

Accor's Patrick Basset said: "We anticipate the tourist numbers will grow with the same momentum [as seen over the past two years], and include more longer-haul tourists.

"We've just signed a Pullman hotel in Yangon and will soon open the Novotel Yangon Max. We are also looking into several potential projects in Yangon, Inle Lake, Bagan and Mandalay.

"People always want to visit exotic destinations and Myanmar is becoming a major player in south-east Asia, enticing more new and returning tourists to the area."

With Nina Karnikowski

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