YANGON: Tourism is booming in Myanmar. Over the past five years, visitors have been pouring into the country, after it shook off its image as a pariah state with the establishment of a quasi-civilian government and, for the first time in more than half a century, an administration under new leadership this year.
Tourist arrivals surged from just above 800,000 in 2011 to more than 4.68 million last year. And by the end of 2016, the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism has said that at least 6 million visitors will have travelled to Myanmar, which suggests the industry will keep growing.
Whether the country is ready for this expansion is uncertain. While Myanmar is blessed with natural attractions, it needs more experienced industry workers and expertise in tourism development. Without that, the industry's full economic potential may remain untapped.
Last year, tourism generated US$2.1 billion in revenue and contributed to 4 per cent of Myanmar’s GDP. It is a major driver of the economy, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), but deficits in infrastructure and human resources pose a tough challenge for its expansion, the bank noted.
Such challenges are not exclusive to the tourism industry, according to Piyamal Pichaiwongse from the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Yangon, who said: “Human resources have been left unattended for a long time. Education and development of human resources were enemies of the country. That's not good for Myanmar.”
That is starting to change, however. Since the country started opening up, more investment has been generated and the economy has started to grow rapidly. With that has come a change in attitudes towards the importance of developing the talent and experience needed to support that growth.
“Myanmar is just at the very beginning of revisiting its labour situation. There was absolutely no knowledge about that, but the government acknowledged it and try to really rework it. However, I think it’ll take time,” Piyamal said.