Following is an unofficial translation of a speech delivered by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at the Central Committee for Development of National Tourism Industry (CCDNTI) meeting (1/2018):
At the moment, international travel business is important not only for a country but also for the entire world. Since the earliest time, there were instances of travelling. At that time, merchants were the ones who mostly travelled and they travelled for trading purposes. The first time travel was done not for trade but for knowledge was by extraordinary people who wished to seek knowledge. There were also people who travelled for adventure.
As the world became developed, most of the travelling is done for recreation, to see things that do not exist in one’s country of origin and to gain knowledge. To attract international travellers to our country, we need to think of ourselves as hosts. If the thinking is to make money only, I don’t think it would be as successful as we want. A host first thinks about the requirement of the guests.
What are they expecting when they come to our country? Some come to see what they haven’t seen and to be where they haven’t been before. Some want to visit places where others haven’t. Some visit for recreation. Some come to seek peace of mind that they can’t find in their own country. They come to our country for many reasons.
If we truly want international visitors to visit our country, we shouldn’t consider them as an opportunity to make money only. They are humans like us. They want happiness and tranquility. They come with a mindset of wanting to have the opportunity to see and experience things conveniently and comfortably. If we can fulfill these necessities, more international visitors will arrive.
The first convenience we need to offer is in the entry process. That is why we are making the entry easy with Free Visa and Visa on Arrival programmes. Another requirement is to look into the condition of entry airports from the country’s financial and security stand point.
Most international visitors travel around our country by air. For example, they’ll come to Yangon. Then they’ll go by air to Bagan. If they want to go to Inlay, they’ll take a plane to Heho, and from there, they’ll take a car onwards. If we can improve and modernize road transportation, we’ll be able to attract more international travelers, I think.
For example, it is very convenient to travel by train. It is also very pleasant. Our train travels haven’t reached that stage yet. Travel by air is different from travel by train. If travel is by air, the visitor will only see clouds and see what they wish to see only when they reach the destination. But if the travel is by trains, more scenery can be seen along the way. Towns and cities can be seen as the train passes by.
When the train stops at a small town or city, international visitors get to know the culture, natural scenery and many other things about the country to a certain degree. They can see the local foods sold at the station. If local foods, local products and souvenirs were offered, it would be very interesting to the foreign visitors.
I like travel by train. First there is no air sickness as when you travel by air. Second, there is no motion sickness as when travelling by car. Third, you can stretch your legs and walk about on a train when you feel tired or cramped after sitting for a long time. I could not do this in a car or plane, where it is quite cramped. That is why I say we need to have new thoughts and views to attract international travellers. What is required in our country? We need to think whether expanding the rail sector would be attractive or not.
Another is travelling along waterways. I’m seasick, so I don’t have much interest in this, but many travelers enjoy this. They can view the scenery. They can breathe fresh air. They can walk around. Make friends. Talk in a leisurely way (with fellow travellers). When stopping at small towns along the way, they can look around. We need to give the visitors this option. For now, they are only travelling by air, so we need to think about making available means to travel by car, train and boats.
Those who come for a vacation or recreation want to see the scenic views in a leisurely manner. There are many who want to observe and study the culture of the country they visit. We need to take into account such visitors too. Some want to learn in-depth about a country’s culture. They don’t just want to see sights or buy some souvenirs. We need to create opportunities for such visitors. For example, we must suggest where a visitor should go if they are interested in history or historical research. Where should they go if the interest is in Buddhism? Most travellers from Asia are Buddhists, so it is not difficult to show where such visitors should go. But we also need to think about other types of visitors who want to visit in other ways (instead of on a pilgrimage).
We need to think of what arrangements to make for those who want to study about culture or religion. Some come with a serious intention to follow up on their interest during the short time that they are free.
We have in-depth topics on culture, history and religion, as well as social. Social is how we live our lives. Community tourism is being promoted for this. It is not only for the development of our villages and wards. This will help the visitors who want to know about us, our country’s traditions and cultures. If we do this thoughtfully and after careful study, we will be able to develop our wards, villages and people in rural areas. We also need to make it satisfactory for the visitors too.
Some visitors seek adventure. Adventures, such as climbing a mounting or trekking. They want to go to places where it is a bit adventurous. They don’t want leisure or convenient travel. They want to test themselves and experience some challenges. We need to think for such visitors too. Where can they climb a mountain? Where can they trek? They don’t want to trek on a smooth road. They want to go a bit up and down. The scenery also needs to be pleasant.
Some want to sleep in tents they themselves erected. There are some who are adventurous. We need to think for them too.
Most visitors first arrive in Yangon, and the most important thing for them is to have a place to stay. Places where they stay would have many levels of standard. But cleanliness is the one important thing, whether the place is a small motel or a grand hotel. Visitors want to stay in a clean place that would be safe for their health. If the surrounding is not clean, they wouldn’t feel comfortable. This is most important. If a visitor can afford it, it can be as grand as they want, but the basic is to have a clean place. As we want to encourage small businesses, places need not be pricey and grand, but they should at least be cozy and clean. I think we need to encourage such small motels and hotels.
Eating places or restaurants are the same. Most visitors, nowadays, are interested in eating at street stalls rather than in grand hotels and restaurants. Even Myanmars like to eat food at roadside stalls when they visit Bangkok, as they say local food is better there than in a hotel. It is more interesting and a bit cheaper. But they think about cleanliness as they think about their health.
It is not for long-term health only. If a person comes to visit the country for a week and is in bed for five days because of food, it wouldn’t be a worthwhile visit. We need to think about offering local foods in a clean and cheap way. As you all know, in Bangkok, these roadside stalls are clean. They are very reliable and are disciplined. They clean up their trash themselves. If we aim towards this example, visitors will be happy, and it would be beneficial to the country, too.
Another benefit in doing this is retaining the traditional food. If visitors are interested and like the food, it could be retained and continued to be offered. These can compete with cheap and non-nutritious foods that come in from abroad. It will be a good business for the poor in our country. It will be small enterprises. We also need to think about small shops or mobile shops on carts.
I frequently hear about the matter of culture. Sometimes, international visitors ask what more should we see after visiting a pagoda. We have many pagodas, no doubt. Visitors are interested in seeing pagodas, but after they see a number of them, they would want to see some other things. We have only a few programs on culture. For example, where can we see Myanmar puppet or marionette shows? At present, visitors need to ask a lot of questions to find one.
Where can they see traditional dances? I think we don’t have much to show them. That is why I want to say we need to fill the gaps here, too. I’m not talking about building huge theatres and halls for this. Of course, these are required too. But we need to aim towards having something along this line. A puppet show doesn’t need a huge and expensive place. Why can’t there be a place for such a thing? Why isn’t there a place for a single dancer or two? Can’t this be done? Why can’t the government support such a thing? The Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Transportation need to coordinate and think together about this.
We can consider waterways when we think about adventure. Our rivers are not like the rivers in Nepal. When I was young, I took a raft ride in a river in Nepal and I enjoyed it. It is also interesting. We need to think about such things, too. We will have to compete with other countries. Everyone is trying to attract visitors all the time. Every country is doing this. Because international travel is a big business that earns big money for a country. That is why everyone is trying to attract visitors all the time. In order to compete with others, we need to provide more in terms of interest, culture, satisfaction, and only then can there be more attractions.
In our country, there are many places that are quite uninhabited or far off. Some travellers come with a mindset of being able to be far off and in uninhabited places. They take photographs there and say no one, besides them, was in those places. We can expand our travel business in this way, too, as this is human nature. But we must be careful. It is important to make sure that the places are not destroyed or spoiled by visitors. Most of you must have heard about this. Once Mt. Everest was like a huge garbage dump. It became that bad. They went to climb the mountain and then left their garbage there. It became a big garbage dump. We need to prevent such things from happening. Being least developed at least gives us the opportunity to take lessons from others, and this itself is a plus, so it is important for us to take these opportunities and make the best out of it. When we plan our travel business and attract visitors, we need to look at the requirement of the whole country. We should not look at one, two or three places only.
For example, everyone wants to go to Bagan. But there are many places that many people don’t know about yet. Those places need to be attracted, too. Everyone also wants to go to Inlay. But in addition to Bagan and Inlay, there many more interesting places for international visitors. Historical, scenically, natural beauty wise. Talking about history, historical places of interest should be based on true facts. There shouldn’t be places that are imagined. For example, there are rebuilt palaces. Are these historically correct? Were these really built in such a way? We need to think about this.
There are statues of former kings. Do these kings really look like these statues? Do they dress as they are dressed in the statues? I don’t know how others think, but I do think this way. Some visitors would come up with such questions. If we don’t know for sure whether it is historically correct or not, we shouldn’t show it. We must not imagine up things as though we know it for a fact. Then trust will be lost. But if we say it outright that the statue was made in such a way, because we think the king was as such, then they wouldn’t say much, because there is no photograph or painting of that king.
We need to show things that are true and factually correct. Sufficient facts should be included. It will help visitors who are interested in our history. Some are interested in our country because of our animals especially our elephants. Some may think that I’m praising my own country too much, but many researchers from abroad had said it many times that there are no elephants in the world that are as good as Myanmar elephants in timber extraction. Some neighboring countries may not agree with this because they also use elephants in timber extraction. But I read a lot about many who study this. I don’t know why, but Myanmar elephants are uniquely experts in timber work.
As elephants are not widely used in timber work in the world, we should think how it could be valuable for international travel business and for the elephants. In thinking in such a way, we need to think not only for the visitors but also for the elephants, too. We can give names to individual elephants so that each traveler can come visit their favorite elephant. I don’t mean to give the elephant away, but they can be foster parents from afar and donate money for the elephant. In a similar way developed countries help and support children in undeveloped countries. In the same way they support their nieces and nephews, they can support our elephants. A child visitor will be more interested in this. Would a child like to care for an elephant? I don’t mean I want to make money out of their pocket money. The idea is to bring them back again, so that they can see the progress and development of their own personal elephant.
Another thing is to create opportunities to view rare animals like the Ayeyawady dolphin. It will create income and support for conserving nature. When doing things for travel business, we need to see how things are done in other countries in our region. As mentioned earlier, we are competing with them.
When visiting Southeast Asia, they’ll think of going to Myanmar, Thailand, Laos or Cambodia, as these countries are similar geographically as well as culturally. They can visit all on a package tour. We will have to think about this, too. For our international travel business to develop, the main requirement is to think and do things in a new way. When implementing these new things, think about the long term benefit for the country.
Whenever I have the chance, I caution everyone. Our country is a Union. A Union is a country formed with many nationals. Never forget about the Union. Do anything without forgetting this. Travel business is also the same. It needs to be conducted in such a way that benefits all in the Union. It must be in a way that brings together, closer and unite the people of the Union. We must not compete against each other and fall apart. We must work together and become united. Our country needs to develop. We don’t need to say much about this. We only need to think whether the development is in the best way.
As our country develops, the majority of our people, not hundred percent as this is not possible, but the majority need to develop. Not only a small group or a single group. We must always be careful about this. May we all establish travel businesses that benefit the majority of our people. I wish that this business becomes a big income generator for the country.