Last night, Solimar International had the pleasure of opening the Myanmar Tourism Federation’s (MTF) first North American Office in history. This was a momentous occasion for both Myanmar and Solimar International, with bright expectations and hopes paving the way for a thriving future in this country.
The turnout at the event was spectacular, with representatives from a wide variety of spheres coming together to celebrate the future of Myanmar Tourism. Special guests included Mr. U Kyi Thein Ko, MTF Secretary General and the Myanmar Ambassador’s daughter, Thwe Myo Tut, who were giving their warmest welcomes.
Among the lively crowd were also representatives from National Geographic, Smithsonian Institute, World Wildlife Fund, Destination Marketing Association International and various Non-Profits, as well as various tour operators, PR and media personnel, tourism consultants, George Washington tourism professors/students, interested travelers and industry leaders.
Several speeches were given by Solimar International CEO Chris Seek, Mr. U Kyi Thein Ko as well as Ms. Thwe Myo Tut, Dr. Don Hawkins and the Mandelay Tour Operator. These speeches spurred all to imagine the unmeasured depth of Myanmar’s beauty, its incredible diversity and hopeful potential in what sustainable tourism could bring to the people and local livelihoods - as well as the wealth of rich culture it could offer the world.
Attendees described their enthusiasm all round. “I’ve been to Thailand but now I want to go to Myanmar,” said Devon Sponheimer, from World Resources Institute and Japlanning, “This is a great event, it’s a lovely space.”
Todd Metrokin, from Ogilvy creative marketing, was impressed by the event and described it as “lively, cool, fun. Beautiful pictures and now I’m going to have be sucked in to go to Myanmar!”
These positive impressions are vital in these groundbreaking moments of Myanmar’s history - a country which was once closed to international tourism for over 60 years. As this nation opens its doors to tourism, there is no telling what could happen, with tourist arrivals multiplying at phenomenal speeds in the past few years.
This symbolic opening of the first North American Office is only a sign of things to come - and a sign of increased openings to this breathtaking country.
Tourism strategic planning is a comprehensive process for determining what a business or destination should become and the steps needed to achieve that goal. Many times when consultants are hired to create a strategic plan, the plan is at risk of remaining on the shelf and never being fully implemented. Why? Because those most affected by the tourism development plan may not have been fully integrated into the development of the strategy, and may not agree with the ideas. This is an ongoing issue the tourism industry faces, and a difficult one in which to find a solution.
The World Bank and the Georgia National Tourism Administration (GNTA) recognized this problem in the past. As part of a World Bank initiative, Solimar was contracted to develop a tourism strategy for the Caucasus nation. We were asked not to lead the development of the strategy, but rather facilitate and guide the GNTA through the strategy development process to ensure it was collaborative and comprehensive as possible.
Between the years 2009 and 2013, Georgia’s international tourism arrivals grew over 300%. This was largely in part to its envious location at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, as well as increasing amounts of exposure in international press as a unique, exciting destination. Georgia is the birth place of wine, has an exquisite culinary tradition, a rich early Christian history, and an abundance of natural assets - including 7 national parks. These attributes – if developed practically – demonstrate a significant strength to the country’s tourism sector within the high-value European marketplace, while improving the industry’s ability to contribute economically.
To keep pace with the increasing demand for tourism in Georgia, additional financing for private and public investments will be necessary. “The joint World Bank and IFC collaboration [in Georgia] focuses on fostering entrepreneurship and access to finance, improving the investment climate, and developing Georgia’s tourism strategy that will determine how to improve the sector’s performance, align implementation priorities and enable job growth.” said Henry Kerali, World Bank Regional Director for the South Caucasus.
Georgia’s tourism development approach has generally been focused on regional advancements rather than a cohesive national-level plan. Within the past decade, the World Bank and Solimar have worked on projects in the areas of Kakheti, Mtskheta-Mtianeti, and Samtskhe-Javakheti, each with creative solutions to grow the local tourism economies while conserving the natural and cultural resources. However, to maximize tourism’s national impact, a national strategy is required that takes into consideration large scale infrastructure and marketing activities that cannot be achieved by the regions alone.
“The tourism sector currently provides nearly 20 percent of export earnings. The national tourism development strategy is, therefore, an instrument to take full advantage of Georgia’s potential and position it globally as a rich, diversified and high quality destination.” Ahmed Eiweida, Program Leader for Sustainable Development Programs in the South Caucasus.
Where is the Georgia National Tourism Administration now?
With the support of the World Bank, the Solimar team, and several Georgian experts, the GNTA produced a 2025 strategic plan that articulates the country’s current position, its vision for the future, and the key activities required in order to get there.
To build buy-in for the strategy, the GNTA led regional workshops, communicated with inter-government committees, issued press events and integrated action plans from other tourism-related sectors. The final document describes how the GNTA and its partners will deliver creative marketing to attract to higher income markets and statistical projections on how the GNTA will achieve a minimum of 5% growth rate over the next 10 years.
Where does Georgia National Tourism want to be in 2025?
The GNTA envisions the country as a premier, year-round, high quality tourism destination - a destination centered on its unique cultural and natural heritage, its world-class customer service, and timeless tradition of hospitality. The GNTA will be at the forefront of tourism competitiveness, through strategic investments in infrastructure, education, marketing, and the development of unique Georgian visitor experiences that appeal to high-value markets around the globe.
How does the GNTA lead the tourism industry to reach it’s vision?
Extensive stakeholder consultation resulted in the identification of 50 priority actions that have been grouped around the following 8 strategic objectives.
1. Respect, enhance, and protect Georgia’s natural and cultural heritage
2. Create unique and authentic visitor experiences centered on those natural and cultural assets
3. Enhance competitiveness, through delivery of world-class visitor services
4. Attract higher spending markets, through increased and more effective marketing and promotion
5. Expand and enhance Georgia’s ability to collect and analyze tourism data and measure industry performance
6. Enhance the business environment, to facilitate increased foreign and domestic investment
7. Expand public and private sector investment in the tourism sector
8. Build partnerships between government, industry, non-governmental organizations, and communities that will be needed to achieve all of the above
What will the challenges be?
Even though the GNTA has completed their strategic plan and found positive monetary incentive to start implementation; the national and regional tourism stakeholders must work as a team to have success. And most importantly, the 2025 strategic plan will only be effective if the GNTA continues to be committed and take ownership of this visionary strategic plan.