I visited Myanmar recently as part of a Skal International 127 Kolkata event. The delegation was comprised of travel trade professionals with an average of 25 years of experience in the industry. The objective was to identify opportunities for outbound tourism to a neighbouring country where, thus far, visitation has been dismally low. It was a brief trip of two days and three nights to the capital city Yangon with a day trip to Bago. My experience has taught me that in order to sell a destination you have to familiarise the trade stakeholders in your target market and offer them what you have. More importantly, you have to listen to their feedback about what it is that their clients are looking for and perhaps a few idiosyncrasies that must be factored in to revise the standard products and offers to make them attractive.
Myanmar has to rise in competition with Thailand and other short haul destinations in the region that have taken a lead on their comprehension of, and adaptation to, the Indian traveller’s comfort levels. This is specifically related to culinary preferences, favoured activities, type of hotels, length of stay and preferred entertainment options. Every destination is distinct in what it has to offer to the inbound traveller and Myanmar is no different. It has good hotels that are reasonably priced, good cultural and sightseeing options, very good meeting and incentive venues, excellent F&B options within hotels as well as stand-alone establishments, reasonably good transportation facilities, cheap flight connectivity, good golf courses, spectacular hot-air ballooning and lots of parks, gardens and lakes and experienced inbound DMCs. To top it all, the human element is outstanding. Good, friendly, kind people.
Shwedagon Pagoda, the most significant Buddhist shrine in Myanmar, is located in the heart of Yangon and receives a deluge of visitors. The ambience of spirituality is omnipresent even with large crowds of visitors every day. The flight from Kolkata is 1.5 hours, shorter than the one to Bangkok. So why hasn’t Myanmar been visited by more Indians? Primarily because of lack of awareness in the Indian market. Also their preparedness for Indian incentives can be a challenge at times to even seasoned DMCs! There are six good Indian restaurants in Yangon and two each in the other focus Myanmarese destinations. However, the pricing is at a fine dining level which needs to be rationalised for groups. Five-star and four-star hotels are reasonably priced and very sellable in the Indian market.
This initiative by Skal International 127 Kolkata is a pioneering effort which has elicited enthusiastic response not only from tourism stakeholders in Myanmar, but also at the governmental level of both countries. Visas are easy, the Yangon airport is extremely efficient, the roads are good even for long drives and the country is safe for visitors. All it will take is a couple of corporate incentive groups, one destination wedding and a golf tour or two to trigger huge growth. This will be aided by the introduction of two imminent IndiGo Airlines flights, the routes of which have not yet been revealed. Myanmar Airways and Air India have twice-weekly frequencies from Kolkata.
Myanmar as a new destination for India must focus on wooing the incentive travel segment. Increased incentive travel will not just bring in good inbound numbers but also is a good vehicle for spreading positive word-of-mouth publicity for a destination, thereby helping FIT travel as well as specific interest travel such as religious tours, educational tours and gastronomy tours. The Indian meeting planners, as well as outbound group tour operators have to educate their clients in the attractiveness and advantages of a new destination that is culturally and climatically similar, in close proximity and offers immense bragging rights. It is time to open up new vistas. Myanmar is definitely one such.
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