Last updated: 11:00 AM ET, Tue November 17 2015

What Boutique Hotels Tell Us About The 'New' Myanmar

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | November 17, 2015

What Boutique Hotels Tell Us About The 'New' Myanmar

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Since before the elections began, many Myanmar watchers assumed that the National League for Democracy, the political opposition party headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, would prevail. Fewer people thought that the party would be able to gain the majority and take control of parliament. 

But Suu Kyi was able to win enough seats to gain a majority. Parties allied with the military (the “Old Guard,” so to speak), still have enough representation to block any changes to the constitution, but not enough clout to shoot down day-to-day policies and laws made by the NLD and its allies. 

What's next for Myanmar?

Everyone was watching the elections in Myanmar to see if the polls were fair, if the opposition could win, and if the military and current leadership accepted the results. All those things have now happened. 

This has left everyone in a kind of “now what?” phase. Inside the country, people are generally hopeful that this new government will listen to their concerns and act in the best interest of citizens instead of focusing solely on retaining power. Investors, meanwhile, don’t really know what to expect. In the past, Suu Kyi has spoken about limiting foreign investment and tourism. At the time of these statements, however, much of the money flowing into the country was helping to bolster the military regime.   

Hotel development moving forward

Hotels in Myanmar are operating under the assumption that the new government will welcome foreign investment and will support the growth of the tourism industry. Hilton is entering the market in a big way with three hotels opening in the next two years and two already in operation. 

Perhaps a bigger sign of an impending travel boom is the arrival of boutique hotels in the country. These hip venues occupy the space between luxury hotels and budget guesthouses. They are a signal that the hotel scene is filling out the areas between “fancy” and “cheap.” A more complete choice of hotels will give Myanmar’s largest metropolis, Yangon, more mainstream appeal.

For the past few decades, Myanmar has been considered an off-the-map destination. However, off-the-map destinations usually don’t have boutique hotels. That is why the announcement of a major new boutique project is a big deal for the tourism industry here.   

Boutique hotels signal a new phase for tourism

One of the biggest boutique projects in Myanmar’s largest city will be backed by one of the hospitality world’s biggest names. Best Western’s new Vib brand will be coming to Yangon in 2018. Vib Yangon will be defined by sleek furnishings, LED mood lighting, rooms with “smart” TVs and complimentary Wi-Fi. The hotels will also include fitness centers, snack bars and "Zen Zone" mezzanines designed for quiet and relaxation. 

Best Western has been placing bets on emerging countries with new hotels in places like Ghana and Nigeria. The chain was one of the first big names to enter Myanmar (in 2013). In emerging marketplaces, big hotel brands usually rely on name recognition rather than unique concepts. BW could simply be trying out a new, untested concept. Or, they could really feel that Myanmar is going to become a high-traffic tourist destination, and they want to be in the lead in the urban boutique hotel niche when that time comes. 

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