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Myanmar struggles to handle new surge in visitors

Travellers and eager investors are pouring in to explore one of Asia’s most untouched countries, filling hotels to capacity, doubling room rates and spilling flight reservations onto wait lists.

world Updated: Mar 22, 2012 23:55 IST

Now that Myanmar is opening to the outside world, good luck getting a hotel room. Travellers and eager investors are pouring in to explore one of Asia’s most untouched countries, filling hotels to capacity, doubling room rates and spilling flight reservations onto wait lists.

As the country sheds its past as an isolated military dictatorship and taboo travel destination it is becoming a new global hotspot, topping tourism lists as the must-see place to visit in 2012.

Myanmar is eager for the hard currency that foreigners bring, but is struggling to handle the influx. At the same time, it is wondering how widely to throw open the doors, should it become another well-trodden tourist haven like Thailand or should it aim for fewer, less-transformative numbers of visitors to keep its ancient cultural sights and charm intact?

For now, Myanmar is the sort of time-warped place that adventurous travellers love. It is an Asian Buddhist wonderland with red-robed monks and bicycle rickshaws where British colonial relics line the streets.

There are no Starbucks or McDonald’s or name-brand Western hotels, but some of that will soon change.

New laws are being drafted to make it easier and tax-friendly for foreign hotel chains and others to do business in Myanmar.

Auctions are under way for dozens of colonial buildings that some developers want to restore as boutique hotels and others want to tear down.

Tourism authorities say the country needs more restaurants that cater to international tastes, more car rental agencies, more airplanes to shuttle tourists to the sacred temples in Bagan, more English-speaking tour guides, more everything.

“We especially need more hotels. We need big chain hotels,” said Kyi Kyi Aye, a consultant to the government’s Myanmar Tourism Board.