Myanmar’s Tourism Sector is taking a New Shape  

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News Desk

Myanmar Airways International (MAI) is restructuring its fleet of aircraft to operate more domestic and international routes despite a domestic and worldwide slump in travel and tourism, said U Tin Maung Than, head of the administration department at MAI.

MAI is expanding its fleet despite an ongoing suspension of international commercial flights to and from Myanmar until June 30. “We do see a 20 to 30pc drop in demand but we believe the travel and tourism space will adapt to the new normal. The travel space is expected to pick up once the travel restriction imposed is removed or relaxed,” said Tanes Kumar, Commercial Director of MAI.

Earlier MAI took delivery of a second-hand Airbus A319 from Russia to be deployed on international routes, the airline said. The addition takes MAI’s current fleet of Airbus aircraft to four. MAI currently operates international flights to Singapore, Thailand, China, Korea, India and Taiwan from Yangon and Mandalay. Before the end of the year, the airline is expecting to take delivery of another four Airbus aircraft from the A320 family.

MAI also has a fleet of eight ATR aircraft operated locally by its sister airline, Air KBZ. The airline will introduce four second-hand Embraer planes to its fleet by August, which it plans to deploy on domestic routes. There are plans to add another four Embraer aircraft to the fleet next year, taking MAI’s total fleet of aircraft to 24.

“This is in line with our original fleet and network expansion plan pre COVID-19, which was to position MAI as the biggest carrier in Myanmar, provide more flight options to the Myanmar travel market and position the country as a destination to the international tourism market,” Mr Kumar said.

There are five local airlines in Myanmar, most of which began resuming flights in late May despite a drop in the number of passengers.

MAI is pushing ahead with its expansion plan at a time when revenue generated by the Myanmar tourism industry has halved so far this year as a result of COVID-19, according to U Aung Aye Han, Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.

Between January and May, the industry received around US$53.2 million in tourism revenue compared to $114 million during the same period in 2019. As a result, more than one quarter of the 96,000 staff employed by hotels and guesthouses has lost their jobs, he said.

Meanwhile, around half the number of tour companies have ceased operations, while service providers such as those which provide car rentals for tourists have declined by about 17pc, according to the ministry’s data.

Currently, just around 680 hotels in Yangon, Mandalay and Shan State are open for business. These comprise the hotels which continued operating despite COVID-19 and those permitted to resume business after passing government inspections after Thingyan.

“Many hotels are still closed due to the drop in the number of guests as a result of the COVID-19. The cost is too high to open given the slump in tourism,” said U Myo Win Than, joint general secretary of the Myanmar Hoteliers Association.

With the number of visitors to Myanmar down by more than 40pc year-to-date, U Aung Aye Han said he expects just half of the 2000 hotels in Myanmar to resume operations this year.

Still, the tourism is among the industries that can expect to receive support from the government. Earlier this month, the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism announced a COVID-19 Tourism Relief Plan to help troubled tourism operators navigate the aftermath of the pandemic.

The plan will be implemented by the ministry in three phases from April 2020 to January 2021, and aims to help rebuild Myanmar’s tourism industry.

Phase 1 of the COVID-19 Tourism Relief Plan will take place between April and June in the form of low-interest loans to help eligible tourism and hotel operators survive the post-pandemic environment. Phase 2 of the plan, which involves the reopening of Myanmar tourism, will take place between June and August.

Myanmar will begin promoting tourism internationally under Phase 3 of the relief plan. This will run from August to January 2021, which is when MAI expects to take delivery of its new aircraft. This will include the easing of travel restrictions, visa exemptions and more.

According to data available up until June 16, the ministry has officially announced plans to offer loans worth K17 billion to 345 hotels and guesthouses and 221 related businesses. That’s 20pc of total government funds available for industries most affected by COVID-19.

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