Yutaka Nagasugi: In July of this year, the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO registered Bagan heritage, one of Myanmar’s leading tourist destinations, as a new world cultural heritage. To commemorate this great news, today we would like to interview Mr. U Ohn Maung, Ministry of Hotels and Tourism. First of all, please tell us your impression when you received the news of the registration decision.
U Ohn Maung: Bagan heritage is an indispensable place to talk about tourism in Myanmar, so the registration decision made us really grateful. At the same time, it took a very long time to register, so there was also a feeling of being relived at last.
Yutaka Nagasugi: Please let us have you refresh for us the appeal of Bagan heritage.
U Ohn Maung: The first thing you should see is the many beautiful Buddhist architectures scattered throughout Myanmar. I would recommend that you see all the old standby spots, such as the Shwezigon Pagoda, which was built in the 11th century and is still golden, the Ananda Temple with its many golden Buddha statues, the Thatbyinnyu Temple and the Dhammayangyi Temple that are over whelming with their height and size.
I would also recommend Gubyaukgyi Temple in Myinkaba Village. It is a temple built in the 12th century; here you can see beautiful murals from that time. It’s a spot that you want to make a little side step to it. Bagan is also famous for lacquerware. There are workshops in various places and we accept visits, so I would like you to have a chance to see the craftsman’s great work in person.
Yutaka Nagasugi: By registering as a World Heritage Site, more tourists are expected to visit Myanmar going forward. In addition to Bagan, what are some of the places in Myanmar that should be appealing at this great opportunity?
U Ohn Maung: I would like to expect a synergistic effect with Pyu Ancient Cities, which became Myanmar’s first World Heritage Site in 2014. This is the ruins of the Pyu kingdom that once flourished in the Ayeyarwady River basin. Three of them, Halin, Beikthano and Sri Kestra, are registered as World Heritage sites. The ruins are a place I would recommend you to visit along with Bagan.
Besides World Heritages, Myanmar has many tourism resources. For example, Kayah State, Chin State facing the inland, and the city bay facing Andaman Sea are still unknown tourist spots. I would like to appeal more to these attractive tourist destinations.
Yutaka Nagasugi: Currently, foreign tourists need to connect to Yangon to go to Bagan, but there was news that a direct flight will start from Bangkok to Bagan. Will access to Bagan improve?
U Ohn Maung: Currently, only domestic flights are in service at Nyaung U Airport, which is closest to the Bagan ruins. In 2018, the Myanmar ministry of transport and communications conducted a survey, and the movement toward international flights is accelerating. In the future, the airport will be reborn as a customs, immigration and quarantine airport without delay, and it is expected to be widely accepting of international flights and allow easy access to Bagan.
Yutaka Nagasugi: The flight price from Yangon to Bagan is more expensive than domestic flights in neighboring Thailand. Do you have an improvement plan for this?
U Ohn Maung: In Thailand, many LCCs (cheap airline tickets) have entered service, and there is a fierce price competition. On the other hand, according to the announcement of the Myanmar ministry of transport and communications, only four of the nine registered airlines in Myanmar are currently in regular service. The remaining five companies have stopped operating. Myanmar’s aviation market in narrow, and fuel prices are soaring, so it seems difficult to reduce prices significantly.
In the future, we expect many tourists to visit Myanmar and increase demand, which will lead to the improvement of these problems.
Yutaka Nagasugi: What are the government’s plans for expanding inbound tourism in the future?
U Ohn Maung: There is an organization called Myanmar Tourism Marketing under the jurisdiction of the Myanmar Tourism Federation. The organization was created with the idea of Destination Marketing. This is the idea that the tourist site’s administration and residents mange tourism together at their site. Moving forward, we will continue to cooperate together beyond organizational boundaries such as between ministries and the public and private sectors to develop each tourist destination.
Yutaka Nagasugi: In Thailand, the government contributes funds to private companies and conducts inbound PR for foreigners. Does the Myanmar government have any plans for such activities?
U Ohn Maung: Thailand’s tourism business is a role model with great influence for Myanmar.
The wide range of PR activities are amazing, and many tourists visit Thailand from all over the world.
The Myanmar government has already cooperated with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and is currently conducting a digital marketing project using 12 languages including Japanese. Myanmar will continue to promote such big projects to attract many tourists more and more.
Yutaka Nagasugi: The tourist visa exemption for Japanese people, which was scheduled for one year from October 2018, has been extended for one year and is valid until September 2020. I strongly hope that more Japanese people will visit Myanmar and learn about the attraction of this country with these great opportunities of interests, such as the visa exemption and World Heritage registration. Thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us today.