Have money, will travel

The travel has boomed since the change of government in 2011 and some Myanmar travellers are spending big on luxury products in rich countries.

France is among the preferred destinations of increasing numbers of affluent Myanmar who are travelling abroad to splurge on luxury-brand products.

In Paris, they are likely to head to the Champs Elysees, but not necessarily to appreciate its grandeur. It’s the address of the flagship store in the French capital of the luxury goods maker, Louis Vuitton.

It is not uncommon for rich Myanmar to take two-week holidays in Western Europe and spend about US$40,000, said Ma Thandar Lay Naing, the managing director of Yangon tour company, Nice Fare Travel.

“They usually buy about 20 branded bags, such as Louis Vuitton, on their trips,” she told Frontier. “When they come home, they can have up to six pieces of checked-in luggage.”

Ma Thandar Lay Naing said her company had handled more than 4,000 bookings since 2011 from wealthy Myanmar, most of whom had travelled to Western Europe and the United States, in that order, followed by the Maldives, Japan and South Korea.

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Package fares, including tickets, accommodation and meals, range from USD5,300 to Western Europe and USD6,700 to the US, she said.

Another Yangon company that handles outbound bookings for well-off Myanmar travellers, most of whom are middle-aged businesspeople, is World Connect Travels & Tours.

“In Europe, some of my customers look for the bags that are the same brand as Myanmar actresses’ bags,” said Ma Chaw Su Win, the operations director at World Connect.

“Some also like to buy Bonia-brand bags that can cost about K3 million or K4 million each,” she said, referring to the high-end fashion accessories made by the Kuala Lumpur-based Bonia company, that has boutiques throughout Asia, including in Yangon and Mandalay.

Ma Chaw Su Win said World Connect had handled outbound bookings for about 2,000 wealthy Myanmar since 2011, some of whom had travelled to Europe for the sole purpose of shopping or having images taken for pre-wedding photo albums.

The opening of the economy since 2011has also contributed to an increase in outbound travel by businesspeople, including those on trips sponsored by domestic or foreign companies to attend what the travel industry calls MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) events.

Ma Chaw Su Win said a well-known fertiliser company was offering wholesale customers and farmers the incentive of a trip to the Indonesian resort island of Bali if they bought a certain amount of its product. “It is a more effective incentive than a lucky draw because farmers like to travel abroad,” she told Frontier, adding that most foreign cosmetic companies offer overseas incentive tours to promote their products.

Product promotion trips to overseas destinations could include up to 100 people, travel agents said.

“The number of investments and joint ventures with foreign companies has created more business travellers, as well as company-sponsored leisure trips for customers,” said Ma Lin Lin Chai, the finance director of the Tunn Star Co., Ltd., that imports lubricants and cement from Thailand. “Since I have my own business, I am invited to go on annual trips by the suppliers and I also sponsor trips for my customers,” she told Frontier.

“It’s people with a higher disposable income who can afford to travel abroad,” said Ma Lin Lin Chai, who travels every year to France, Italy or Spain.

It’s a well-known fact that the advantages of overseas travel can be a broadening of the mind because of exposure to foreign ideas, attitudes and practices. 

Ma Thandar Lay Naing said some of her customers had been interested to see the effort being put into protecting and appreciating heritage buildings and the environment in many foreign countries.

U Lin Htein, the chief executive of Yangon-based Myanmar Tourism Services Co., Ltd., said he had observed how overseas travel had broadened the minds of Myanmar customers by exposing them to different cultures and different ways of doing business.

A number of factors are driving the steady increase in outbound travel, whether budget tourists or high-end travellers.

They include cheap fares, which are partly the result of fierce competition among the ever-increasing number of budget carriers serving regional destinations, and the easing of visa restrictions by Myanmar’s partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Travel to Thailand has soared since a reciprocal bilateral agreement took effect in August allowing visa-free entry for Myanmar citizens travelling on ordinary passports for up to 14 days.

Travel companies said round-trip fare packages for Myanmar travelling to regional countries can start from as low as USD350 for tickets, accommodation and meals. The most popular regional destinations include Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, they said.

Overseas fare packages have become so competitive that it can be more expensive to visit some domestic destinations than a package-tour to the Thai beach resort of Pattaya, for example.

Thailand has welcomed the increase in Myanmar tourists, most of whom visit Bangkok for weekend shopping trips.

Ma Chaw Su Win said the Thai embassy in Yangon had recently hosted an event for Myanmar travel agents to express appreciation for their role in the increase. “They said a survey showed that visitors from Myanmar are the highest-spending tourists in Thailand,” she said.

Travel companies are upbeat about prospects for outbound travel.

“Most of the people who have travelled abroad told me they want to visit more foreign countries,” said Ma Chaw Su Win.

Ma Thandar Lay Naing said a smooth transfer of power would be good for the the future prospects of the travel market. 

“If the transition is okay, outbound tourism can boom,” she said.

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