Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Burma to rejoin U.N. tourism group

Wednesday, 16 May 2012 12:06 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Burma is seeking renewed membership in the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO ), according to UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai.

Tourists buy items from vendors on Inlay Lake, a major tourist attraction which is recognized as an Asean heritage site. Photo: Mizzima

He said President Thein Sein officially informed him that Burma wanted to rejoin the organization, as it is in the midst of upgrading its tourism sector.

Rifal said UNWTO paid special attention to developing countries because of the strong relationship between tourism and development.

“Tourism may help create jobs, infrastructure, trade, investment – all of these are part of tourism. Burma has tremendous natural and environmental access. It is also located in a region that is booming,” he said.

During a meeting with Minister for Hotels and Tourism Tint Hsan, Rafai said issues of education and training, promotion, branding and sustainable development growth were discussed.

Rafai said Thein Sein was particularly interested in the issue of educational training and human resource development, asking UNWTO to send an advisory team to assess the curriculum and teaching standards at tourism-focused education institutions.

“He also stressed very much the connection between tourism and job creation. I found the president extremely aware and very much conscious of the benefits and potential of tourism,” he said.

“The most important thing is to prepare and train the workforce of Burma to become more professional. The second most important suggestion is promotion. We think that Burma now must have a strong brand like all the other Asian destinations around it.”

UNWTO also proposed supporting Burma's bid to get Bagan on the UNESCO World Heritage List. “It’s time to do that, and we must do it very quickly,” said Rafai, adding that the ancient capital was a “fantastic open museum.”

“I think there are many challenges in Burma but not more than in many developing countries,” he said.

Recently, Mizzima reported that Burma would start issuing visas-on-arrival and business visas on June 1 to accommodate businessmen and foreign travelers.

According to official statistics, the number of tourist arrivals at Burma’s Yangon International Airport reached 359,359 in 2011. The figure is expected to reach 1.5 million in 2012.

Meanwhile, as of February 2012, hotels in Burma numbered 739 including 22 foreign-invested hotels, four joint-venture hotels, six government hotels and 707 privately owned hotels.

Recently, officials have called for more low and medium-priced hotels and guesthouses. Room rates in top quality hotels have soared in recent months, from around $40 to up to $300 a room. Luxury hotels are usually booked far in advance.

Burma earned US$ 319 million in 2011 from the hotel and tourism sector, up 26 per cent from $254 million in 2010.

The tourism sector is expected to increase rapidly as sanctions are being withdrawn by most nations.

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