YANGON, 20 February 2017: Myanmar Tourism Federation and the Tourism Authority of Thailand recently signed a MoU to promote tourism between the two countries under the tagline Two countries – One Destination, but will it resolve major pain points?
They claim it will have positive impact on the tourism industries in both Thailand and Myanmar, but neither organisation is in a position to introduce measures to streamline travel and remove the pain points plaguing overland travel. That is in the hands of ministries and they are ignoring even the most obvious obstacles that hinder tourism growth.
Thailand and Myanmar share a 1,800 km border, but there are only three official overland border posts (Tachileik, Myawaddy and Kaw Thaung) where tourists can enter and exit Myanmar if they are using the popular e-visa.
Myanmar led ASEAN in the adoption of the e-Visa facility. The user friendly visa can be obtained at www.evisa.moip.gov.mm.
Travellers should be warned there are other sites that appear during an e-Visa Google search that are run by private firms. They are not officially recognised. Travellers should apply directly at the government site paying the USD50 fee with their credit card. Confirmation usually takes 24-hours.
According to the Memorandum of Understanding tour operators and travel agents in both countries will be offered assistance to create better programmes. The two agencies claim it will ensure that familiarisation trips and promotions are organised that combine both destinations.
However, they gave no details of the content of the MoU, or the kind of assistance tour operators can expect from the agencies that signed it.
In the case of Tachilek the most popular checkpoint in the far north, two-country fam trips have been organised by private groups, such as the Chiang Rai PATA Chapter, without any assistance from the TAT office in Chiang Rai.
The press statement of the two agencies failed to identify the major problem facing visitors travelling from Chiang Rai to points in Myanmar. Airlines double the fares for foreigners on domestic services out of Tachilek airport. They will also have to book the flight locally through a travel agency in Tachilek town after crossing the border. None of the airlines offer online booking and payment for flights out of Tachilek.
This is a major pain point and some travel executives told TTR Weekly they believe Myanmar is now the only country in Asia with a dual airfare policy for domestic airline sectors. Vietnam previously inflated fare prices for foreigners, but has adopted a single pricing framework in recent years for all passengers flying domestic routes regardless of nationality.
This is not true of Myanmar and its agencies and federations fail to address the issue which is clearly discriminatory and impacts on travellers from neighbouring Thailand.
“There are over 25 daily flights between the two countries” said May Myat Mon Win, vice chairman (Marketing), Myanmar Tourism Federation “connecting Bangkok and Chiang Mai with destinations like Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw and Mandalay”.
What she is not addressing is the massive difference between what airlines charge foreigners and locals to fly beyond the gateway towns on domestic sectors.
“Together with Thailand, we want to encourage tourists to visit all the cultural sights in Myanmar, also from June. We hope this MoU will help get more tourists visiting Myanmar during the green season (rainy season),” she said.
AirAsia will offer twice daily services from Bangkok to Mandalay this March. The federation noted that from Mandalay airport, flight times have been adapted to ensure convenient direct transfers straight to Bagan upon arrival.
What is not being explained is that low-cost airline passengers will pay considerably more for the short domestic flight to Bagan than the international roundtrip fare on Thai AirAsia. Travellers on low-cost airlines are not likely to take up an offer that substantially increases the cost of travel simply because of their nationality.