Singapore visitor numbers to Myanmar could surge with a new visa-free deal between the Republic and the fast-emerging nation.
The visa exemption deal, which took effect on Thursday, could mean a 35 per cent jump in Singaporeans headed to Myanmar and an extra $20 million for travel agencies here, said one tourism body.
Last year, 43,000 Singaporeans visited Myanmar. As of August this year, more than 32,000 had visited - a jump of 18 per cent compared with the same period, said Myanmar Tourism Marketing.
The body, a non-profit grouping of travel-related companies in Myanmar, launched its first business- matching event yesterday, at the Peninsula Excelsior Hotel.
More than 50 Singapore firms from the travel sector turned up to make contact with more than 12 Myanmar firms, including travel agencies, hotels and Myanmar Airlines.
Ms May Myat Mon Win, chair of Myanmar Tourism Marketing, sees huge opportunity for Singapore businesses to capitalise on the expected growth in Singapore travellers, both leisure and business.
"More than 70 per cent of travellers from Singapore are business travellers at the moment. With the visa exemption policy, it will ease travel between the two countries, especially for business - usually businesses decide at the last minute. In the past, even with the e-visa, you would still have had to wait several days for a business visa," she said.
Ms Mon Win cited rapid growth in Myanmar's hospitality industry, with 140 per cent growth in revenue per available room between 2011 and 2014. This has slowed to 10 to 12 per cent in the last two years, but she expects numbers to surge again with the visa exemption rule.
In the eight months to August this year, the 32,000 Singaporeans visiting Myanmar was well below the 130,000 from Thailand and nearly 80,000 from China.
Mr K. Gopal, managing partner of International Indenting House, said fewer than 5 per cent of his clients now go to Myanmar, but he expects the figure to grow, lifting his revenue by at least 10 per cent next year.
"Myanmar has to increase publicity and start something like a Visit Myanmar year, just like Malaysia. Once people are aware, they will start to go. It is good that they are starting to lay the groundwork for more promotions."
Ms Shirline Goh, head of sales for ATG Tours, said that the company has already seen marked growth in the last three months, despite customers still having to pay for visas.
"We've gone from taking fewer than 10 clients a year to Myanmar, to having more than 20 customers in the last three months.''
The company is optimistic about growth, she said, adding that it hopes to take between 50 and 100 travellers to Myanmar next year.
Firms are also looking to Myanmar as an option for bonding trips.
Said Ms Goh: "We are beginning to receive inquiries from companies to organise their corporate retreats and trips to Myanmar next year. Previously, companies had been looking at places like Vietnam, Bhutan and Nepal, but Myanmar could be the new destination."
Singapore Business Federation (SBF) chief executive Ho Meng Kit said the need for a visa had deterred some businesses from making their first exploratory visit.
"With the visa exemption policy, SBF expects to see an increase in both business and leisure travellers. It is also expected to impact the aviation sector, as existing and new airlines may increase the number of weekly flights."
He added that in the 2015/2016 SBF business survey, Myanmar was the top overseas market for members wanting to internationalise.