Myanmar visitor numbers up, further rise expected

Travellers and tourists at the arrival hall of Changi Airport Terminal 1.
Travellers and tourists at the arrival hall of Changi Airport Terminal 1. PHOTO: ST FILE

More people from Myanmar are coming to Singapore for their vacations and their numbers are expected to grow as the Republic's tourism authority boosts efforts to attract them.

Visitor arrivals from Myanmar grew by almost 35 per cent from 2010, to 105, 452 last year.

Although these numbers are small, compared with visitor arrivals from other countries, industry experts are excited about the potential of this new market.

The visitors' spending grew by about 18 per cent to $196 million between 2010 and 2014, said the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

A typical traveller from Myanmar comes with a tour group and stays for three to four nights here, said industry players.

Mr Edward Koh, STB's executive director for South-east Asia, told The Straits Times that the agency had in the past year reached out to Myanmar outbound travel agents and banks, "in addition to building up our business channels through trade updates".

It has also engaged with Myanmar consumers on social media, conducted several familiarisation trips with Myanmar media and looks to grow the pool of business travellers here, especially those who come here for incentive trips.

Two weeks ago, STB chief executive Lionel Yeo identified Myanmar as one of the markets that the agency will focus its marketing efforts on for the next five years.

"To diversify our source markets, we will also explore and enter newer markets like Myanmar, which has started to open its economy," he had told industry players.

This comes amid a lacklustre performance by the sector last year, which saw visitor arrivals grow a modest 0.9 per cent to 15.2 million, while tourism receipts fell 6.8 per cent to an estimated $22 billion.

A promising factor is Myanmar's growing middle-income group, said Mr Laurence Lee, business development manager at travel agency Hong Thai Travel Services.

"For a start, they will go to neighbouring countries, as it is not as costly as long-haul (destinations)," Mr Lee said.

"The country is opening up and, with the new government, there is this feel-good sentiment all around," he added.

Mr Hein Thant, director of Aviareps Myanmar, the sales agent for various airlines in the country, expects a growth in arrivals of about 10 per cent, but noted barriers such as the visa requirement.

Currently, a Myanmar visitor has to pay a US$23 (S$31.30) fee and wait four working days to get a visa to Singapore, said Mr Thant.

Among the documents that must be submitted is an invitation letter from a Singaporean or a permanent resident here. This is a requirement from the Singapore authorities.

For those who do come here, Chinatown, Universal Studios Singapore and Gardens by the Bay are ranked as their top three attractions, said STB's Mr Koh .

STB has also found that they tend to prioritise quality time with their family and make a decision to travel based largely on recommendations by friends and relatives, he added.

Gardens by the Bay's director of business development, Mr Darren Oh, said: "Myanmar is an emerging market with much potential. We will continue to look at ways to further engage this market."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2016, with the headline 'Myanmar visitor numbers up, further rise expected'. Print Edition | Subscribe