Bust to Boom - Tourism in Myanmar

Last update: 15 Sep, 2019

From bust to boom to ... steady growth?.

Tourism and the hotel market in Myanmar

Myanmar used to be an unknown, unloved, forgotten country, located right between two of Asia's major tourist destinations: India and Thailand. In the high season just a few hundred thousand people would bother to travel there, put off by the boycott, the complicated border and travel restrictions and the difficult currency situation. Since 2010 that has changed dramatically: Myanmar has gone from bust to boom in just a few years.

For many years Myanmar had between 200.000 and 250.000 tourists arriving at Yangon airport every year. Until 2013 Yangon airport was the only entry point to Myanmar; but from August 2013 onwards four land border crossings with Thailand have been opened for tourism. From 2011 onwards visitor numbers started to rise dramatically and during high season there was a hotel room shortage. The year 2013 turned out to be the high point in room prices. The hotel situation in Myanmar has since then improved because many new hotels have been built.

Tourist arrivals at the international airports.

The overall picture is that the steep rise in tourist number dipped in 2016; and levels off in 2017. Tourism number increases of 50% year-over-year are a thing of the past and future growth will be more gradual. The reason for the dip in visitor's numbers in 2016 is due to the unrest in Rakhine and the Northern Shan region.

Of the 3.384.000 tourists in 2017 1.3 million (1.304.000) came through the international airports. More than 2 million (2.080.000) came through land borders. Therefore, 39 percent arrive by air, and 61 percent through land borders. If these overland travellers are multi-day visitors or just do a one day border hop is unclear.

The graph below shows the number of tourist arrivals at the three international airports (left) and the total number of hotel rooms in Myanmar (right). These tourism statistics exclude land-border tourists.

Myanmar Tourism statistics
Myanmar tourism graph from 2008 until 2018.
Left: tourist arrivals at the international airports.
Right: total number of hotel rooms in Myanmar.


Myanmar tourist arrival data.

year airport arrivals rooms
2008 193.000 20400
2009 245.000 21000
2010 319.000 23500
2011 391.000 24000
2012 593.000 28000
2013 904.000 35000
2014 1.130.000 43000
2015 1.288.000 50000
2016 1.208.500 56500
2017 1.304.000 64000
2018 1.344.839 68167

DATA: Ministry of hotels and tourism statistics.
The arrival numbers exclude land border tourists.


The new Hotel Zones

To Zone or not to Zone?

The new Hotel Zones which the Myanmar government has planned and developed around Mandalay and Inle lake have not been very succesfull. For example in 2012 the government launched a hotel zone project in the hills around the south-eastern part of Inle lake. This new hotel zone, easily visible from Google Earth by the new roads on the bulldozered hills is more than twenty kilometres from Nyaung Shwe and thus rather isolated. In 2017 there are only two new resorts and its clear that this hotel zone is not a great succes. Farmers have protested at being bought out at very low ground prices; and farmland and a hillside have been destroyed; leaving a large open wound which is easily visible from the lake. Any replanting of greenery or trees seems not to have taken place so far.

Similar problems have arisen at the new Tada-U hotel zone near Mandalay. Quote from "Sustainable destination plan for the ancient cities of upper Myanmar, Mandalay, Amarapura, Inwa, Sagaing, Mingun (2016-2021)":
The location for the Hotel Zone of the Mandalay region is a large area in the township of Tada U, near Inwa, around 10 km north of Mandalay’s international airport. The planned complex covers an area of around 22 square km. (almost a quarter of the size of modern-day Mandalay). From the point of view of scale and the enormous sacrifice of farmland and of rural landscape, the project seems exaggerated.

It reminds one of the enormous scale of Naypyidaw, which is also difficult to navigate for tourists. The Tada U hotel zone is 10 km north of Mandalay’s international airport and ... 25km away from central Mandalay town (the railway station and Zaycho market). It might be a reasonable residential area, but for a tourist it would the worst place to stay in Mandalay. It seems that hotel developers are in some cases better off when they ignore government zones.

Another serious problem is that farmers get very little compensation when a hotel zone is developed, usually the profits are made higher up. Protesting usually resolves nothing; as farmers are on the bottom of the food chain and can do little against the authorities. Therefore, the hotel zones have drawn a lot of critisizm in Myanmar for mismanagement and bad planning. The only place that would benefit from Hotel Zones is Bagan, where they seem to have some succes. These hotel zones in Bagan are smaller and not as remote as the ones in Inle and Mandalay.

Now that the Myanmar hype is over some of these zones are no longer needed in the foreseeable future. The popular destinations in Myanmar (the Big-Four) have an abundance of hotels and some of the hotels that have been built in remote hotelzones may find it hard to fill their rooms.


Timeline of tourism numbers and the hotel market development.

February 2012
Hotel rates in Myanmar start to rise in 2011. The number of tourists arrivals increases from around 800.000 in 2010 and 2011 to more than 1 million in the year 2012. (including border tourists)

February 2013
Hotel rates in Myanmar have more than doubled in 2012, and during 2013 room rates have tripled compared to 2011. For example the Sedona Hotel in Yangon went from US$50 per night in 2009 to US$280 in 2013.

February 2014
The incredible price rise of hotel rooms seems to have stabilized. In 2013 the number of hotel rooms increased by 44%, from 25000 to 36000. The many new opened hotels have improved the hotel situation; but many travelers complain of overpriced rooms.

February 2015
In Yangon there are many new hotels and hotel occupancy rates have gone down. Hotel room rates in Yangon have started to go down. In contrast to this the hotel room prices in Nyaung Shwe, Inle lake, have been increasing, due to the fact that it has a very limited number of hotels. Decent budget guesthouses can get booked up during peak season (December and January).

February 2016
The large number of hotels, hostels and guesthouses which have opened last year seems to have resolved the accommodation shortage this winter season (2015 - 2016).

April 2017
The average room rate of 20 hotels and guesthouses in downtown Yangon(*) has dropped by about 30 percent since the apex in 2013. It is mostly the luxury hotels that have cut their room rates significantly. The average room rate of hotels in Mandalay has dropped by about 20 percent.
The average room rate in Nyaung Shwe (Inle Lake) where many modern hotels were built between 2014 and 2016 has dropped by about 30 percent since 2015. The room rates in other towns and villages have fallen much less.

May 2018
The number of tourists from Thaland and China has been increasing in 2017; whereas there have been lower numbers of Western and European tourists. The average room rate in Myanmar is still going down. Surprisingly, there are many new hotels in towns like Mawlamyine and Pyin-U-Lwin, but no significant decrease in room prices. On Ngapali beach new budget hotels and guesthouses are being opened; but tourism to Ngapali and Mrauk-U is decreasing for obvious reasons.

June 2019
The number of tourists from China is still increasing, as the promotion towards attracting Chinese tourists seems succesful. The race to the bottom is over; hotel prices have more or less bottomed out, and hotel room rates are now quite reasonable. As a matter of fact some new hotels in the "Big 4" are now discounting so much, that many must be making a loss on their investment.

*] Downtown Yangon is the grid area south of the railway around Sule Pagoda. Hotelroom price changes are compared in US-dollar rates.

The hotel situation from 2011 - 2018.

In the last six years the number of hotel rooms has increased two- or threefold in the main destinations (the Big-4), except in Bagan where the authorities are restricting the building of new hotels in the Bagan archeological zone. In 2011 there were only 731 hotels in all of Myanmar; and by 2017 the number has doubled to 1590 hotels. A government campaign to have Bagan included on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites has moved into a sensitive area following a decision by the Ministry of Culture to take action against hotels built illegally within the Bagan temple complex. The Ministry of Culture is trying to reverse the license of (illegally) constructed hotels; in March 2016 the Bagan Heritage Committee revoked the license for 25 hotel buildings under construction. The owners can apply to complete construction as a residential building but they cannot operate as a hotel.

town 2011 2017 PCT
Nyaung Shwe937 3258348%
total rooms 1425435712251%

Hotel room numbers from 2011 - 2017
DATA: Ministry of hotels and tourism statistics.

Naypyidaw is an interesting case: after government offices moved to Naypyidaw many hotels started popping up with the expectation that many international delegations would visit. This has caused an enormous oversupply; in 2016 Naypyidaw has 5100 rooms in 63 hotels, but far fewer than 1000 rooms are occupied. More: www.irrawaddy.com (“Taking a look at a hotel industry in Naypyidaw, I feel like the Titanic is sinking.")


Hotel market analysis and forecast for 2019

Most first time visitors of Myanmar tour the "Big 4"; Yangon, Mandalay, Inle lake and Bagan. These 4 destinations are where hotel chains and Burmese investors have built many new hotels during the last eight years. In Mandalay, Bagan, and Inle lake many hotels have opened, and the hotel shortage has completely disappeared. Overall, Myanmar has been focusing on luxury, upmarket tourists during the tourism boom, not on backpackers and flashpackers. That trend of many upmarket travellers has changed since the unrest in 2017.

Hotel room rates (in US-dollars) have been edging down the last 5 or 6 years; the hotel rates in Myanmar have become comparable to those in other SE-asian countries like Thailand and Cambodia. Hotels in all price ranges are now plentiful, but hostels are a relatively new phenomenon, and the few that are there are not cheap compared to Cambodia and Thailand. The luxury hotels in Yangon and Mandalay that tripled their room rates in 2013 have lowered their room rates significantly. Room rates for mid-range hotels have been dropping as well, and there are very good online discount deals to be had. In the budget hotel market, there has been relatively less expansion; fewer budget hotels have been built. As mentioned, there are few hostels, and they have a high occupancy rate.

Outside of the "Big 4" in some towns there are still relatively few hotels and room rates can remain quite high. For example, very few new hotels have been built in Sittwe, Mrauk-U, Myawaddy, Taunggyi and Pyin-U-Lwin; and hotel prices are high here.


After the Western and European tourist inflow showed a decline due to the turmoil in northern Rakhine State; Myanmar is shifting its tourism promotion towards the Chinese and South-East Asia markets. In 2018 the government rolled out a visa on arrival (VOA) for tourists from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao. Most other nationalities still need a normal visa or E-visa. From 1st October 2019 onwards, visitors from Italy, Spain, Russia, Germany, Switzerland and Australia can also get a Visa on arrival.

The total number of tourists in 2019 is increasing at a very healty rate, the first half of 2019 shows a good increase over 2018. Bagan has been awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO in july 2019. The news of World Heritage status will likely boost tourism.


Myanmar Hotel Market links

  • mmtimes.com - Myanmar Times: Fixing the tourism industry, 10 Aug 2018
  • mmtimes.com - Myanmar Times: Hotel supply glut leads to construction review, 22 September 2016
  • colliers.com - Colliers International Upper Scale Hotel Market Report 2015: Occupancy rates further declined for the third consecutive year dampening average room rates.
  • frontiermyanmar.net - Visitors to Yangon are benefitting from a freefall in hotel prices.
  • www.hvs.com/article - Hotel Valuation Services: In depth hotel market report. HVS is a global consulting and services organization.
  • myanmar-responsiblebusiness.org - Oct 2016: Hotel Policy is Broken: Here’s How to Fix It.
  • oxfordbusinessgroup.com - Myanmar Tourism Articles & Analysis. (limited free articles)
  • oxfordbusinessgroup.com - The year 2016 has been a sobering one; room rates in Myanmar's hotel sector witness decline.


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