Name: Edwin Briels
Country: Originally from the Netherlands, calling Myanmar home for over 15 years
Job: Managing Director Khiri Travel Myanmar and volunteer with Myanmar Tourism Marketing in charge of digital marketing and public relations
Question: What are your thoughts on the current state of tourism in Myanmar?
Answer: I think that tourism in Myanmar has just set off and the sector is ready for growth. The infrastructure has improved a lot and there are plenty of hotel rooms, airline seats, good long distance buses, smooth roads as well as plenty of restaurants, people working in the industry and even excellent mobile internet so the country is ready.
Of course tourism is going through a bit of a “rough patch” during the last few months due to a lot of negative media attention about Northern Rakhine state but I am confident this will pass as well.
Question: What developments would you like to see in the coming years?
Answer: Currently a major tourist attraction like Bagan only gets 280,000 tourists a year which is not enough to sustain a liveable income for many people working in tourism the whole year round. I would like to see yearly double digits growth so more people in the countryside can earn a fair living and improve their living conditions.
Besides that, I would love to see tourist arrivals being spread out over 12 months as Myanmar is certainly a whole year round destination and I think it’s a shame many people believe the only period to travel is from October to April as in reality the green season is one of the best periods to travel.
Question: What do you love and what do you hate about your job?
Answer: At Khiri Travel Myanmar we love to support people all around the country to set-up their own local business ranging from travel agency, local restaurant or offering home cooked food to bike rental or cooking classes. I LOVE to see all these young entrepreneurs becoming successful and are very happy to see these start-ups working well with just a little financial support and advice.
There is not much I hate about my job to be honest, that’s why I have been working in Myanmar for so many years. Maybe I hate it if people don’t answer emails (or pick up their phone) or I hate it if overseas tourists are ignorant and visit the country with an “I know everything” attitude and too quickly think they have analysed the country and yet are drawing the wrong conclusions.
Question: What advice would you give to someone planning a trip in Myanmar’s high season?
Answer: Consider visiting in the green season instead as it might be a better experience!
Besides that, in general, make sure that you meet a lot of local people, get to know their story and experience true Myanmar hospitality. I see often individual travellers in Myanmar only talking with other travellers, only communicating online with fellow country men and just experiencing Myanmar from a “distance” making pictures of temples but not having real conversations more than 3 minutes with local people. I think that’s a shame. When you meet Myanmar people who do speak English and who are interested to talk to you, please do invite them for a meal or a drink (and make sure YOU pay for them, not the other way around). I do encourage to use services of a tourist guide and take time to get to know the place you visit and ask all the questions you always wanted to know as not everything about Myanmar can be “Googled” – it’s the personal encounters that make traveling such a better experience.
Question: Tell us about a magical Myanmar moment you’ve had.
Answer: I am glad you’re asking as this is exactly what I want to create for all tourists visiting Myanmar: a “magical moment.” For some people this is when climbing a mountain in Kayin State while others have a “magical moment” when watching the sunset over Bagan or simply meeting a group of young people in a local tea shop. It’s hard to plan in advance. By creating a lot of personal encounters with Myanmar people during a trip, Khiri Travel ensures there will be a magical moment for every tourist.
For me personally I think there were hundreds of magical moments for me in Myanmar. Some involved trips to remote areas all over the country and meeting for example a tattooed faced lady in remote Chin State during a trekking between Bagan and Mrauk U, or sleeping in a traditional Palaung long house during a road trip from Inle Lake to Keng Tung. Other magical moments are simply in Yangon when being greeted by strangers with a friendly “good morning” while jogging in Mahabandoola Park or having a mohinga breakfast at a local food stall near my home or simply enjoying a Myanmar beer in chinatown.