Myanmar Airways hopes polls will boost tourism

Struggling flag carrier Myanmar Airways International is hopeful that next month's elections will usher in a new era of growth for the country's tourism sector, a senior executive said Friday.

"We are hoping that after the elections, the country will be opened up and we believe there will be more tourists coming in," Ye Jhan, the airline's assistant general manager, said at an aviation forum in Singapore.

"Once we have a new government and new policies, there will be (a) big increase in tourist arrivals... because the country has a lot of opportunities to develop tourism," he said.

The November 7 election is the country's first in 20 years but it has come under strong criticism from Western governments and human rights campaigners who say it is a sham meant to entrench the military's grip on power.

But Jhan told AFP on the sidelines of the forum that he was confident the new government will encourage tourism "because tourism revenues are quite good for us."

Jhan said more than 201,000 tourists had visited the country so far this year, compared with more than 227,000 tourists for all of 2009.

He said Myanmar Airways, like other enterprises in the country, had suffered because of international sanctions imposed mostly by Western governments.

Unlike other airlines in Asia, the flag carrier has to make do with limited resources, Jhan told delegates at Aviation Outlook Asia.

The airline is "barely managing to keep our heads above the water," he said.

"We are still struggling and we need significant improvements in our capital funding... We are running our business with less than 20 million dollars only."

This is considerably less than other airlines that easily have at least five times that amount, Jhan said.

"To be a reputable international airline, that's our new vision," said Jhan. "We hope we can develop ourselves within a few years with the support from the political situation... When (the) new government comes, I think we will have support from other countries."

Jhan said the airline was 20 percent state-owned.

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