Q: Do you expect an open route from Bangkok to Yangon within a few years?
A: Yes, I think so. Because now we have peace, dialogue with the Karen group. The border is open, and the bridge is open. There was an announcement today [Jan. 31] that all Myanmar people can cross the border—they only need an ID card.
Q: Chinese tourism is on the rise. What special attractions do you have for Chinese tourists?
A: Jade. We organize jade emporiums. We get 3,000 to 4,000 foreign traders each time—almost all from China.
Now we sell gas to China, and they have made a very big investment in pipelines. All this news is announced around their country. Before it was only people from Yunnan coming here, but now everyone is coming.
Q: Any applications for Chinese-financed hotels?
A: I think most Chinese admit they are not experienced in the hotel business. They just come here for hydropower, mining, trade, construction. If they offer a loan, they like to control the project by themselves.
Q: Western tourists are usually interested in tropical beaches. Can you accommodate a high demand?
A: I have been to many international fairs over the years, but we never promoted beaches because we think that tourists will be more interested in the culture, the heritage, the pagodas, and so on. The only beach we advertised was Ngapali beach. All the diplomats, when they get a holiday they go there to relax. Not local people.
So now we have to find new beaches. When the season comes, all the rooms are full. Now many hotel investors are paying close attention to the beach areas.
Some southern areas have already started to develop. But we do not allow any speedboats or boats with engines. We must control the noise. Windsurfing is OK, but no engines. But I don't know how long we can control that.
Q: Any plans for new roads to Ngapali or Myeik?
A: We are thinking about building new roads and new airports. The local administrations can make these decisions by themselves. Of course the central government can advise or give suggestions.
Q: Are we likely to see a global marketing campaign for Myanmar any time soon?
A: No. Our ministry has no budget. Our advertising power is very weak—but the hotel chains and long-haul carriers that come in, they will help advertise for us. They will let more people know about Myanmar, our culture. Seeing is believing!
Q: The Italian government recently pledged 400,000 euros for conservation at Bagan. Does this complement a wider plan to conserve ancient sites?
A: We want UNESCO to be involved, but cannot because of US sanctions. However, we are requesting that UNESCO accept Bagan as a World Heritage Site again.
At our Asean meeting, we discussed putting together our own Asean Heritage Fund and we have approached the ADB [Asia Development Bank] about this. Until recently, UNESCO would not participate in meetings in Myanmar, but they came back again earlier this year. This is a good sign that they have changed their minds already.
Q: Are there any forms of tourism you would like to avoid?
A: Yes. The “Zero Packages” from China, where the tourists pay for everything in advance and buy nothing when they are here. At the Asean meeting, we asked the Chinese officials to stop these tours and said we would take away the licenses of the companies who persisted.
Q: Is sex tourism inevitable?
A: We must learn lessons from our Southeast Asian neighbors.
But we don't have many discos and bars. Myanmar people don't tend to drink too much. Where there are bars and discos, there are prostitutes. By knowing this, we can prevent it.
However, even if you tell people they cannot do something, they will do it secretly. Mostly, it's a question of education.
Q: The Boycott Burma campaign, inspired by the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi, has recently relaxed its conditions on tourism.