It’s only a question of time once Myanmar opens it economy. Have earlier hurdles been waived?
Four new tourism projects in the largely untouched Mergui Archipelago in Burma’s far south could begin this year, according to an official at the public company behind the plans.
The archipelago has more than 800 islands, covering an area of 10,000 square miles, which are rich in rare wildlife and pristine beaches. It is also home to a small community of so-called sea gypsies, who practice ancient fishing and boat building techniques and live almost entirely cut off from the outside world.
While currently difficult and expensive to visit, the area, also known as the Myeik Archipelago, is tipped to become a major tourist destination as Burma welcomes more foreign sun seekers.
The Myeik Public Corporation—formed in 2012 by local business people in southern Burma with a start-up capital of 50 billion kyats (more than US$50 million)—has ambitious plans for the islands.
Administration manager Kyaw Myo Paing said the company had earmarked more than $10 million for an initial investment in four tourism projects to be completed over the next four years. The plans will see hotels, houses, golf courses and shops built on the deserted Khuntee (or Gabuza) Island, Eastern Sula Island, Langan Island and Tanintharyi Island by 2018, he said.
Kyaw Myo Paing said the Tennasserim Division government and local officials still had to approve the plans.
“Last week, Myeik district authorities and other government officials visited the islands to see whether those islands can be allowed for us [to develop] or not,” he said.
“According to our information on the ground, the islands are suitable to be leisure islands for visitors. We will start construct as soon as we get the green light from the government,” he added.
The manager insisted that the development would not jeopardize the natural beauty and environment of the islands.
“We will not construct it all at the same time, it will be step by step,” he said, emphasizing that the area’s coral reefs, as one of the main attractions for visitors, would be protected.
The Myeik Public Corporation is confident that it will get permission from authorities, he said. It also aims to sell shares to the public to raise additional funds for the projects, he added.
At present, there are only two resorts in the vast archipelago—the Andaman Club, a casino owned by a Thai businessman catering mostly to Thais, and the Burmese-owned Myanmar Andaman Resort.Burmese tycoon Tay Za is also expected to construct a hotel and leisure zone in the archipelago, according to tourism industry sources, although the precise location of this zone is not known.
Aung Myat Kyaw, the chairman of Union of Myanmar Travel Association and an adviser to Burma’s Tourism Marketing Committee, said that infrastructure development is essential to open up the Mergui Archipelago to visitors.
At present, he said, most visitors are specialist divers spending large sums of money to visit the untouched reefs. Some of the islands and dive sites can only be reached after many hours on a boat.
“No tourists come for leisure to this area because they need to spend a lot of money to be there. It takes time and is tiring [to reach the islands], but visitors can get new experiences—especially divers, who like these places a lot,” Aung Myat Kyaw said.
“There are not many tourists arriving at the Mergui Archipelago, but most who do visit come from Thailand through Ranong and Kawthaung [the Burmese border town]. Many of them come from Thailand’s Phuket beach.”