YANGON: Tourism is booming in Myanmar. Over the past five years, visitors have been pouring into the country, after it shook off its image as a "pariah" state with the establishment of a quasi-civilian government and, for the first time in more than half a century, an administration under new leadership this year.
Tourist arrivals surged from just above 800,000 in 2011 to more than 4.68 million last year. And by the end of 2016, the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism has said that at least six million visitors will have travelled to Myanmar, which suggests the industry will keep growing.
The Shwedagon Pagoda is among the top tourist attractions in Yangon, Myanmar.
Whether the country is ready for this expansion is uncertain. While Myanmar is blessed with natural attractions, it needs more experienced industry workers and expertise in tourism development. Without that, the industry's full economic potential may remain untapped.
Last year, tourism generated US$2.1 billion in revenue and contributed to 4 per cent of Myanmar’s GDP. It is a major driver of the economy, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), but deficits in infrastructure and human resources pose a tough challenge for its expansion, the bank noted.
Myanmar has beautiful scenery to help draw international visitors.
Such challenges are not exclusive to the tourism industry, according to Piyamal Pichaiwongse from the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Yangon, who said: “Human resources have been left unattended for a long time. Education and development of human resources were enemies of the country. That's not good for Myanmar.”
That is starting to change, however. Since the country started opening up, more investment has been generated and the economy has started to grow rapidly. With that has come a change in attitudes towards the importance of developing the talent and experience needed to support that growth.
“Myanmar is just at the very beginning of revisiting its labour situation. There was absolutely no knowledge about that, but the government acknowledged it and (tried) to really rework it. However, I think it’ll take time,” Piyamal said.
"Human resources have been left unattended for a long time," Piyamal said.
As Myanmar pushes through reforms, tourists continue to pour in and demand for hospitality services is on the rise. If handled properly, the tourism industry could provide up to 1.4 million jobs by 2020, according to the ADB, which forecast 7.5 million international visitor arrivals and US$10.1 billion in revenue in the same year.
VOCATIONAL TRAINING NEEDED
The government is trying to step up to the plate. Under the leadership of the National League for Democracy, it is working hard to reform education and give people the skills they need to help the country's economic growth. One of the things that could be expanded is vocational training, Piyamal said.
"Now this is the moment that people matter."
That is already happening, with the Hospitality and Catering Training Academy (HCTA). Established in 2014, it is helping to fill the gaps in skills and experience in the hospitality sector.
“A huge amount of manpower is required but demand and supply are imbalanced. I found so few training centres for our locals to cater for the demand,” said Thaw Zin Maung Maung, the principal of HCTA.
“The tourism sector is the most promising business in Myanmar. The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism should act more aggressively in the development of training centres for our own people in this highly-demanded employment sector.”
HCTA provides free vocational training in a bid to empower Myanmar's youths.
During a programme lasting eight months, students at the HCTA are guided through theories and practices required for work in tourism. The programme mainly covers hotel operations and culinary arts. Students also have an opportunity to intern for at least two months at its in-house restaurants and guesthouses as well as partner hotels and eateries.
“For every batch, over 300 students would apply and only around 110 to 120 students would be accepted through writing and oral tests,” Thaw Zin Maung Maung said.
The curriculum is based on the ASEAN Common Competency Standards for Tourism Professionals and is available for students aged between 18 and 25.
“Two batches of HCTA graduates are working in well-known hotels and restaurants without any difficulties. We’re also seeing increasing job demands for our coming graduates,” Thaw Zin Maung Maung added.
"It is a good prospect for the future of tourism."
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