Pictured above: H.E. U Htay Aung, the Union Minister for the Ministry of Hotels & Tourism, Myanmar
INTERVIEW WITH H.E. MR. U HTAY AUNG, UNION MINISTER OF THE MINISTRY OF HOTELS & TOURISM
Could you tell us about the role tourism plays in the economy of Myanmar? How did tourism perform over the last few years?
Myanmar’s geographical situation and abundant natural resources play a vital role in the country’s emerging tourism economy. The overall number of tourist arrivals to Myanmar in 2013 increased by 93 percent to 2.04 million visitors compared to 1.06 million visitors the previous year. Tourism receipts of Myanmar also increased, notably by 73.4 percent from USD 534 million in 2012 to 926 million in 2013.
Since Myanmar’s Government is pushing ambitious economic reforms, could you highlight some new important policies for tourism development?
As Tourism is a national priority sector of our country it needs to define the policies to develop systematically. Henceforth we adopted the respective policies concerning tourism development. Successively we developed and launched a “Myanmar Tourism Master Plan (2013-2020)” and Policies on “Responsible Tourism” and “Community Involvement in Tourism”. Currently, we are developing an “Ecotourism Policy and Management Strategy” as a new important course of action, cooperating with other line ministries and regional development institutes.
As you mentioned, the Tourism Master Plan is a milestone in the development of Myanmar’s tourism. Please, share with us the current implementation status of this plan.
In regard to the Myanmar Tourism Master Plan we are implementing six strategic programs within a time-frame of eight years (2013-2020). The Master Plan designated 38 fundamental priority projects. My Ministry, so far, has been implementing 14 projects of capacity building and the development of destination management plans. These projects cover areas, such as Strengthening Institutional Structures, HRD, the Development of Destination Management Plans, Infrastructure Development, and Product and Service Quality Enhancement.
Last year we reformed the core structure of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism and provided HRD and capacity building to all stakeholders in the tourism industry in Myanmar. To systematically develop the tourism sector, Central Committee for the Development of National Tourism, chaired by the Vice President of Myanmar, has been formed.
Currently, the Ministry has taken the lead in the setting-up of Destination Management Organizations in every State and Region, while aligning the new Myanmar Tourism Law in accordance with the country’s precipitous tourism development.
Regarding the overall development of ASEAN tourism, are Myanmar’s key tourism policies and future tourism development in line with ASEAN’s tourism policy direction?
As above-mentioned, Myanmar’s Tourism Master Plan and its policies on Responsible Tourism and Community Involvement in Tourism will be used as a roadmap to shape the future development of tourism in Myanmar. All those policies are in line with ASEAN’s Tourism Policy.
How important is the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) at the end of 2015? In that respect, what preparations are made by Myanmar for its tourism sector?
In the process of the establishment of the ASEAN Community, the accomplishment of the ASEAN Economic Community is very crucial. ASEAN Economic Ministers declared that 82% of prioritized measures are implemented.
To realize the AEC, the active participation and dedication of the private sector is a must. For that, the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism is conducting Seminars, Workshops, and Symposiums to raise the awareness of AEC by educating and convincing the private sector cooperating with other line Ministries, the Myanmar Tourism Federation and other congenial Associations.
From Myanmar’s perspective, which critical issues need to be addressed in the new ASEAN tourism strategy for the coming 5 to 10 years?
The Ministry foremost attaches high importance to addressing “Barrier Free Tourism” in the new ASEAN tourism strategy. Tourism is for all kinds of human beings, disabled people not being an exception. Tourism can generate new hope and inspiration for them. So far, we should create special equipped barrier free destinations in order to facilitate their travel motivation as well as to provide a better world.
What needs to be done to enhance tourism cooperation amongst ASEAN Member States?
I would like to highlight the saying “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”, quoted by Helen Keller. Coordination, cooperation and collaboration are significant. Harmonious functioning, common effort, and joint planning are always needed for all cooperation efforts amongst ASEAN Member States.
In January 2015, for the first time the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) will take place in Myanmar. How is ATF’s importance viewed and what could delegates expect from this important regional event?
We are absolutely proud and delighted of being ATF 2015 host country for the first time in history! The benefits from this unusual event for Myanmar, as an emerging tourism destination, are unquestionable. It surely will strengthen the country’s tourism sector development.
I do believe all ATF participants will gain a great deal of tourism and related opportunities at this juncture.