YANGON, 31 July 2018: Myanmar confirmed late last week it would ease visa procedures for three nationalities 1 October.
Tourism officials quoted government sources saying tourists from Japan, South Korea and China would be granted a visa-on-arrival for up to 28 days.
Details were sketchy with none of the official websites for the Hotels and Tourism Ministry, or the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population posting any relevant details on the changes.
Usually, announcements on visa requirements and changes to the country’s popular eVisa are posted on the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population website.
According to reports in local newspapers, including Myanmar Times and the Irrawaddy, the latest changes would extend the current visa-on-arrival service to citizens of China, Japan and South Korea at the country’s three international airports; Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Daw.
The Irrawaddy provided the most details claiming Chinese visitors would pay USD50 for the visa, while the fee would be waived for Japanese and South Koreans.
Travellers from all three countries would complete a form at the airport arrival hall and show evidence that they had USD1,000 in cash, a return air ticket and hotel bookings to cover their stay in the country.
Japanese and South Koreans would be able to apply for a visa-on-arrival at four specific land border checkpoints shared with Thailand; Tachileik, Myawaddy, Kawthaung and Htee Khee. The visa-on-arrival stay, valid for 28 days, cannot be extended.
The facility will apply for independent travellers and those travelling on package tours.
The most convenient advance-visa service is provided by the country’s eVisa scheme. Citizens of a long list of countries can complete a simple online form, attach a photo and pay USD50 using their credit card. Technically it takes three working days to receive the approval number and barcode, but in most instances approval is confirmed just a few hours later. Travellers present a print out of the approval letter to immigration at an approved airport or land checkpoint. Entry through one border checkpoint and exit through another is allowed.
The country’s eVisa is by far the most popular and reliable facility making the visa-on-arrival in most instances irrelevant. In countries where and airport’s airside space is limited the visa-on-arrival counters cause congestion and overcrowding. The eVisa makes for a better option, more convenient for the traveller and allows immigration to conduct an advance check against blacklists.
However, about 40% of travellers to Myanmar still apply for a visa in advance through an embassy or consulate.
Thailand, which remains the top supplier of both leisure and business travel to the country, enjoys visa-free stays for up to 14 days. However, business and frequent travellers can also apply for multiple entry visas.
China is now the second largest supplier of leisure visitors. If Myanmar intends to tap this market more effectively the visa-on-arrival may prove to be cumbersome and expensive to manage.
Japan and South Korea are seen as high-value markets, but in the long-run Myanmar would benefit more by offering visa-free status similar to what it offers to ASEAN member nationalities with the exception of Malaysia.
Ironically, Malaysia had been a strong supporter of Myanmar providing investment especially in aviation and tourism to spur economic growth, but it remains the sole ASEAN nation that has so far failed to ink a bilateral visa-free travel accord with Myanmar.
This should be a priority as there is already a strong network of airline services between the two countries. Tourism from Malaysia would grow substantially if visa-free travel privileges were applied for Malaysians travelling for leisure purposes.
It is understood Malaysia is reluctant to give visa-free status to Myanmar fearing it would prompt and exodus of labour-related travel.
However, neighbour Thailand built a highly successful tourist industry based on allowing visa-free travel from key countries that do not reciprocate including the USA, UK, Germany, France, Italy and Australia. To support tourism, Myanmar could still extend visa-free travel to Malaysian citizens outside of any bilateral agreement.
Myanmar saw tourist arrivals contract 2% during the first half of the year to reach 1.722,049 visits. Tourist arrivals during January to June 2017 reached 1.75 million.
According to the half-year update, airline arrivals reached 651,986 counted at the country’s three international airport; Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw.
The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism data showed 682,100 visitors entered the country on visas, while another 1,039,949 were border pass travellers (Thailand, China and India). Total arrivals from all sources reached 1,722,049 during January to June.
The country targets over 7 million visitors by 2020.
Last year it welcomed 3,443,133 tourists an increase of 18%. In 2016 arrivals reached 2.9 million, which represented a massive 38% drop from a peak of 4.68 million visitors in 2015.