Myanmar, a jewel in the rough for MICE

Julian Ryall catches up with Phillip Couvaras, who joined Sule Shangri-La, Yangon as general manager in June, and takes on the additional role of Myanmar area general manager, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts. Couvaras reviews Myanmar's readiness for business events

How has Myanmar’s business events landscape changed since the improvement in the country’s political environment?

Many hotels have benefited from the growth in tourism to Myanmar over the past five years. Leisure and group tour segments have seen year-on-year growth while small-size business events were extremely successful between 2012 and 2014. Unfortunately, the latter has seen little activity in the past two years.

Having said that, I see vast unexplored potential in Myanmar as a business events destination because the country is an under-explored gem.

Companies that are looking for that unique and memorable experience will no doubt find themselves returning, while business events provide an extensive range of benefits for the operator as well as the hotel.

Did Myanmar’s role as chairman of ASEAN for 2013-2014 helped in any way in positioning the country better for serious, high-level meetings?

Myanmar’s successful handling of ASEAN’s activities during that time did indeed demonstrate its ability to manage business events. As well as the heads of the 10 member states, the main summit attracted world leaders from the US, China, Japan and India.

In my opinion, (those events) demonstrated that Myanmar is the perfect destination for business events because it offers a largely untouched opportunity for anyone hungry to experience the country’s cultural and adventure opportunities.

What do you think is the potential of Yangon – and Myanmar more broadly – as a business events destination?

With its unique culture, old-world charm and welcoming spirit, Myanmar is a hidden treasure for business events. The country has a great deal going for it as a destination. There are at least 20 international airlines serving the country; anyone from South-east Asia – except Malaysians – enjoy visa-free entry; Yangon has a range of unspoiled, natural tourist spots, making it perfect for incentive groups.

More specifically, experiences can be customised according to the preferences of event participants, ranging from cycling tours and pagoda visits to luxury cruises and tours of elephant sanctuaries. Meanwhile, the central business hub of Naypyidaw boasts several purpose-built exhibition halls, including the Myanmar International Convention Centre.

Yangon remains the overwhelming preference for business events, and the city has a number of convention and exhibition facilities, such as the Tatmadaw Exhibition Hall and the Myanmar Convention Centre.

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