Monday, 17 March 2014

Local knowledge and authenticity the keys to success

Planeloads of foreign travellers are shaking up the tourism and hospitality sector in Myanmar. Local hoteliers and tour operators must adapt to meet the coming boom and possible higher competition for international investors, who also aim to chase after the big inflow of tourism dollars.

“Being a local is already a brand in itself, without having to try so hard to create an identity. However, you now need to work very hard to deliver your service at its best,” Yinn Myo Su, managing director of Inle Princess Resort told Asia Focus during a recent interview in Yangon

“You need to be transparent and reliable in operating business, otherwise you will not be able to stay in the competition.”

Inle Lake, a freshwater lake located in the once-sleepy village of Nyaungshew in Taunggyi District, part of Shan State, is one of the top five attractions in Myanmar. Being a local hotelier has both advantages and disadvantages, she said, therefore it is crucial to know how to make the best use of our identity.

“We are small. It’s harder for us to be visible compared to big chain hotels. However, we need to stay authentic, stay local, simple and humble. The big concern for me is how we should market our tourism products; these sales and marketing ideas are still a new concept to us.”

She points to Thailand as a country that has done an impressive job promoting its traditional cuisine and making a name for its cultural products, saying Myanmar could learn a lot from this process.

“Grandmothers’ recipes from Thailand are very well-presented and have gained popularity across the globe. But for us right now, so many people still don’t know or have any ideas about our food and we really need to learn how to present this information in the right manner.”

Teddy Chia, director of Max Myanmar Chain of Hotels, part of the Max Myanmar Group of Companies, one of the country’s largest conglomerates, said that for hoteliers and tour operators to excel and make the best use of the arriving opportunities, it will be essential to understand the different demands and requirements of tourists from different countries.

“We need to know that Myanmar is not a year-long destination. For the Asian market, the tourists are not really concerned about the season, which is different from western travellers. We need to do the right marketing and offer great promotions to the targeted customers at the suitable period,” said Mr Chia.

For Asian travelers, he said, it is not really about the sea, the sand and the beach, but mostly about religious beliefs and cultures. Local operators must know the mechanics of the market and develop the right approach strategies.

Phyo Myint Han, the founder of DiscoverMyanmar.co, a tourism information website that gathers local sources of information on destinations, accommodations and tour programmes, said local people need to lead the way to promote and market tourism-related products well.

“The idea came to me when I was searching on the net, trying to find information about my home country while I was studying in the United States,” he said. “A lot of the information was rather misleading or at times did not reflect the real face of Myanmar and our Burmese people. A lot was very negative and unrealistic.”

He focuses on what local people know best and tries to deliver the most authentic experience for visitors. “At the time some foreigners had already started websites providing similar information. However, I think as a Burmese, we should be the ones who doing this job.”

In his view, only about one-third of the country has been discovered by tourists. And with “home-court advantage” and great international exposure combined with the extensive travelling experience within Myanmar that he and his team have, they know many other places that could potentially become great destinations.

Initially the website is focusing on selling hotels and tour packages. The goal is to expand into “community tourism” which has already started to become a popular trend.

“The growing tourism trend right now is the foreign individual traveller. I have interviewed many tourists; they say they are willing to engage with the local people, if the local people have enough communication skills,” he said.

“Not only do they want to see the majestic scenery, they also want to understand the lifestyle and the culture of this country. And this is where we can take part; we can bring them to the people and in the same time create an opportunity for our local people to expand their knowledge and networking experience with foreigners.”

Both Mr Myint Han and Ms Myo Su stressed the importance of human capital building to define and strengthen the direction of Myanmar tourism. Last year Ms Myo Su started a vocational training centre in Inle Lake, aiming to equip local hotel staff with all the skills they need.

“This is probably the first training centre in Myanmar which specifically caters to tourism industry,” said Ms Myo Su. “We are planning on training 40 students per year. Our courses include reception, cooking and languages. There are also scholarships for those who are interested but have insufficient finances.”

The founder of DiscoverMyanmar.co said that during the rapid transition period in his country, he wanted to see Myanmar continue to nourish the roots of its culture. At the same time, it can be open-minded and also learn from others’ mistakes.

“I believe we can start out fresh. I see Myanmar as a time machine. We don’t need to correct our mistakes because we have not done anything, especially in this area (tourism and hospitality sector),” Myint Han said.

“We can learn not to make the same mistakes made by others, or skip unnecessary processes. With good guidelines, good commitments from all parties and a good set of policies, I believe Myanmar can excel in this.”

source: Bangkok Post
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