Myanmar looks to rebrand as a destination for foreign tourists

Writer: 
Khaing Kyaw
A group photo after on panel discussion on the rebranding of Myanmar to attract tourists(Photo-Myanmar Eleven)
By KHINE KYAW 
MYANMAR ELEVEN
ASIA NEWS NETWORK
YANGON 
 
MYANMAR’S hope of becoming a travel hub in Asia would be far from a reality if the nation fails to rebrand itself as a destination for international visitors, according to a panel discussion held on Friday.  
 Tint Thwin, director-general of the Directorate of Hotels and Tourism, said now is time to focus on rebranding so that foreigners choose Myanmar as a place for leisure. 
“2017 is a very important year for our tourism industry. We all need to make sure to attract more visitors here. For that, we need more discussions with industry players to set action plans and ensure effective implementation on the ground,” he said.
Tint Thwin said the tourism ministry would cooperate with all the stakeholders to unleash Myanmar’s potential by upgrading existing destinations and creating new ones. He said he was confident that tourism would become a major driver of Myanmar’s economy in the near future.
“Foreigners are usually willing to visit the Golden Rock Pagoda, Bagan, and Inle Lake. But we have many other places of natural beauty that are yet to become new destinations,” he said. 
Thet Lwin Toh, chairman of Union of Myanmar Travel Association (UMTA) and managing director of Myanmar Voyages, said that a white paper would be issued to raise brand awareness by properly changing the current motto, slogan, and logo. He said that tourism –both inbound and outbound – would develop as more Myanmar nationals visit Singapore and Thailand for leisure, shopping and medical purposes. 
Zayar Myo Aung, a director at the tourism ministry, said that Myanmar should focus on digital branding as well as participation in international tourism fairs. 
“Nowadays social networks such Facebook and Viber are the most cost-effective tools for spreading information. International events play a key role in our brand awareness but it costs a fortune to go there. But a recommendation by a famous blogger who has thousands of followers is really effective,” he said.
According to Zayar Myo Aung, the tourism ministry partly supported international appearances by tour operators. He suggested making good use of media and inviting international filmmakers to shoot in the nation’s key destinations.
“We must reduce dependence on seasonality. We need to make sure to let the world know that Myanmar is a year-round destination. It will reduce all the costs,” he said.
Kaung Min Khant, assistant secretary of Myanmar Tourism Marketing, said that Myanmar should change its logo and some terminology. For instance, he suggested replacing the word “low season” with a more persuasive “green season” to raise visitors’ interest.
“We need to change visitors’ perception that Myanmar is expensive and only a land of pagodas. To reduce costs, we need more visitors. If our hotels enjoy full occupancy rate and airlines enjoy satisfactory capacity, we will not be expensive any more,” he said. 
“Some visitors do not want to visit Myanmar in the rainy season. But it is the best time to visit such destinations as Bagan and Mandalay that are usually hot in the peak season,” he added. 
Aung Tun Lin, chairman of Myanmar Tourist Guides Association, said that he preferred soft branding, i.e. friendliness and hospitality of tourism practitioners. He suggested production of TV programmes that showcase Myanmar’s key attractions on state-run television channels and promotion of seasonal festivals on a monthly basis. 
Thurein Aung, a historical researcher and project manager at Yangon Heritage Trust, urged creating unique new festivals (eg Thanatkha Festival) based on Myanmar customs and traditions. He suggested transforming Yangon into the nation’s travel hub rather than a gateway city. To him, Yangon’s forgotten colonial heritage and religious buildings would be key to visitors’ interest, as they are situated within a walking distance. 
Thet Zin Myint, executive committee member of UMTA, suggested content writing for each cluster in the industry. She said that beautiful places, lovely culture and friendly people would attract more visitors.