As Myanmar opens, hoteliers see prospects

Thu Jan 26, 2012 3:13am EST
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Paritosh Bansal and Ploy Ten Kate

DAVOS/BANGKOK (Reuters) - Travelers hoping to catch a glimpse of the glittering Shwedagon Pagoda or hear the "tinkly temple-bells" of Kipling's Road to Mandalay might one day be able to book into a Westin or a Marriott, thanks to Myanmar's emergence from political isolation.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts -- which runs chains such as Westin, Sheraton and Le Meridien -- and Marriott International both said during the World Economic Forum in Davos they wanted to start running hotels in Myanmar, a country tightly controlled by the military for five decades until last year.

The former Burma, one of the most isolated countries in Asia, is being welcomed back into the international fold after two decades of sanctions, thanks to democratic reforms including the release of political prisoners by President Thein Sein.

"Marriott would love to be there if conditions are right," said Arne Sorenson, president and CEO-elect of Marriott International. "Burma has captured people's imagination for decades."

Myanmar has a huge amount to offer travelers seeking an exotic destination, with deserted islands, golden temples and cultural sites unblemished by the rapid development seen elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

English-speaking schoolchildren grew up with Rudyard Kipling's wistful poem of "mist on the rice-fields", "the old pagoda looking lazy at the sea", and "a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land".

The hotel chains in Myanmar now are Asian-based companies such as Shangri-la Hotels & Resorts, which runs Traders Hotel, Singapore's Sedona Hotels International, and GHM Luxury Hotels, a Burmese company that owns the Strand in the commercial capital, Yangon, formerly Rangoon.

The few five-star hotels outside of Yangon are mostly in beach resorts or tourist centers such as Mandalay and Bagan.   Continued...

<p>A woman exercises in a public park near Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon early December 14, 2011. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun</p>