| DAVOS, Switzerland
DAVOS, Switzerland Jan 25 Travellers
hoping to glimpse the golden pagoda of Rangoon or hear the
"tinkly temple-bells" of Kipling's Road to Mandalay may soon be
able to book into a Westin or a Marriott, thanks to Myanmar's
re-emergence from political isolation.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts - which runs chains such
as Westin, Sheraton and W - and Marriott International
both said during the World Economic Forum in Davos they wanted
to start running hotels in Myanmar.
The former Burma, one of the most isolated countries in
Asia, is being welcomed back into the international fold after
years of sanctions, thanks to democratic reforms including the
release of political prisoners by President Thein Sein.
"Marriott would love to be there if the conditions are
right," said Arne Sorenson, president and CEO-elect of Marriott
International. "Burma has captured people's imagination for
Long ruled by an authoritarian military dictatorship that
was suspicious of outsiders, Myanmar potentially has a huge
amount to offer travellers seeking an exotic destination, with
coasts, rainforests and cultural sites unblemished by the rapid
development 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 only hospitality chains that operate hotels in Myanmar
now are Asian-based companies such as Shangri-la Hotels &
Resorts, which runs the Traders Hotel in Myanmar's commercial
capital Yangon, formerly Rangoon.
About 300,000 tourists visited Myanmar in its 2011 financial
year, according to government figures. That is barely 2 percent
of the more than 11 million people that visited nearby Singapore
during the same year.
"I think it's time for people like us to look at Burma,"
said Vasant Prabhu, vice chairman and chief financial officer of
Starwood Hotels & Resorts.
"I think Burma is the interesting new opportunity - a little
bit like Vietnam might have been 20 years ago. We have a decent
presence in Vietnam right now."
Myanmar could also benefit from turmoil diverting travellers
from other tourist destinations, such as the Middle East.
It is still too early to talk of a flood of foreign
business. Asia-focused bank Standard Chartered - which
operates in every Asian country besides North Korea and Myanmar
- said it would consider opening in Myanmar if sanctions are
lifted, although it is still premature to make concrete moves.
"We're looking at the changes very closely, but it isn't
clear yet," said StanChart's Chief Executive Peter Sands in an
U.S. and European sanctions, imposed in response to years of
human rights abuses, have left much of the country in poverty. A
third of its estimated 60 million people live on less than a
dollar a day.