The Daily Telegraph, January 21, 2013
Myanmar received a record number of tourists last year, with more than a million visitors flocking to see a country many once considered off limits.
The figure, taken from recently published statistics for the country, is a large rise when compared to the 816,000 travellers who visited in 2011.
The data also shows a significant 67 per cent growth in earnings from tourism for 2012, a sum of $534 million (£336 million) compared with $319 million (£201 million) the year before.
The influx of visitors comes as the country opens up to the wider world following the release of the pro-democracy politician Aung San Suu Kyi.
During the years of military rule, Suu Kyi had asked tourists to stay away, but has since softened her stance to welcome independent travellers.
The speed of growth in international tourism has led to concerns however about the infrastructure in Myanmar to support it.
As travel operators introduce new tours to the country’s ancient sites, including the temple complex at Bagan, the Buddhist stupas of Yangon and the evocative city of Mandalay, there have been reports of accommodation providers struggling to meet demand.
Just 25,358 hotel rooms are registered across the country, 8,152 of them in Yangon. In the popular destinations of Bagan and Nyaung Shwe, by Inle Lake, there are just 2,097 and 937 rooms respectively. Experienced tour guides are also said to be in short supply.
In September last year, Telegraph Travel reported that the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism had ordered all foreign-owned hotels to cap their basic room rate at $150 (£94) a night, in response to fears that demand-driven price rises were damaging the country’s reputation among overseas travellers.
One hotelier criticised the cap however and suggested that the government would do better to tackle the more pressing problem of a severe shortage of rooms.
Most international visitors are from Thailand, followed by China. The growth in tourism is expected to continue this year, with visas now available on arrival. The ministry has forecast 1.5 million arrivals for 2013.