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Making the Yangon, Myanmar, historic hotel industry rely on Asiatic tourism - not Westerners - to live.
The 74-room Yangon Excelsior - a refurbishment of the Steel Brothers premises on Bo Sun Pat Street, Yangon - will welcome its first guests next months. The breathtaking Rosewood Yangon - a remodeling of the New Law Court on Strand Road, finished in 1931 - opens in December and adds 166 rooms to the luxurious resort store in the former Myanmar city.
Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, Hong Kong-based New World Development, manages the real estate. The Peninsula Yangon Hotel, a sophisticated refurbishment of the former Burma Railways Company head office, on Bogyoke Aung San Road, in the heart of the Central Business District of Yangon, is due to open in 2020.
It is operated by a JV between The Hong Kong & Shanghai Hoteles and Myanmars Yoma Group. Excelsior, rosewood and the peninsula are all found on places from the colonisation of Myanmar (1886 to 1948), then known as Burma. The city already has three legacy properties - the legendary Strand Residence (founded in 1901 by two Sarkies Armenians who also established the Raffles in Singapore ), the Belmond Governor's Residence and the Savoy Hospital.
Thanks to Myanmar's unparalleled contemporary past of settlement, followed by five centuries of comparative economical segregation (1962 to 2012), Yangon is a treasury of architectonic remains. At least 189 official properties have been classified as "heritage" by the Yangon City Development Committee and are being progressively rented to the residential market for renovation as such.
Leaseholders of such facilities are required by contract to work in close cooperation with the Yangon Heritage Trust and the Yangon Commission to maintain the integrity of the property. "We did everything to the facility, complete with the X-ray of the entire structure," says Stephen Purvis, General Director of Meeyahta Development, Yoma's Yoma affiliate responsible for the redesign of the 88-room Yangon Peninsula.
The renovation of cultural assets in Yangon demands a certain amount of time, effort and perhaps a certain amount of romance for Myanmar. "The first time I came to Yangon in 1999, I fall in Love with the land. It is authentic," says Supalak Foong, manager of Kanok Furniture and Decoration in Thailand, a major shareholder in the Thai-Myanmar JV that is refurbishing Rosewood Yangon.
Kanok, the premier furnishing and furnishing provider for the Thai hospitality sector, has been in Myanmar for more than a decade before he decided to make his first investment in a hospitality property in 2014. Rosewood Yangon is a solid five-storey building that occupies almost an whole bloc on Strand Road, whose façade consists of 22 ionic granite pillars.
Excelsior and Rosewood are coming onto the scene, with Myanmar's tourist industry having problems, thanks to the military's violent action against the Muslim municipalities of Rohingya in Rakhine State in August last year. Widely reported acts of atrocity by the army had only a modest effect on last year's arrival, but this year it will be felt more strongly, especially by foreigners.
Goverment numbers show that Myanmar tourism in the first four month of 2018 declined 1 percent year-on-year, but Yangon International Airport saw a 30 percent decline from long-established European, US and Oceania market. In the same timeframe, the number of people arriving from Asia increased by an annual rate of 10 percent, the number of people visiting from China by 31 percent and from Thailand by 17 percent.
Faced with declining west air travel, Yangon hotels are turning east this year. The Strand could for years ask almost anything it wanted for its 31 rooms and usually get it. However, with increasing rivalry in the high-end sector and the slowing of incoming passengers from the West, this year' s prices have dropped by 20 to 30 percent, and even the beach is beginning to show some degree of agility.
While The Strand, The Belmond Governor's Residence (49 rooms) and The Savoy (30 rooms) have long monopolized the Yangon "heritage" hospitality industry, they will face tough competitive conditions with the opening of Excelsior and Rosewood. The Rosewood Yangon - the former New Law Courts residence - has a unique and interesting history. Throughout the Second Woridewar, the Japanese turned the facility into the headquarter of their dreaded Kenpeitai, the intelligence service, and the facility was later the headquarter of the Burma Socialist Programme Party, the Burma army striker General Ne Win's former international group.
However, the company's managers will probably highlight the very contemporary conveniences of Rosewood Yangon. It works in close collaboration with cultural-historical groups, such as Turquoise Mountain, which is currently refurbishing the city's former Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, and Doh Eain, a charitable organization that has engaged the resort to clean up but maintain the area' s neighbourhoods.
In view of the Rakhine event, the rosewood and the Excelsior will have to look to the Asiatic markets to fill their spaces, at least in the upcoming high seasons - November to January. It is hoped that well-to-do, cultivated regional tourism will be willing to provide top prices for these historic properties, even though a reduction is already underway in Yangon.
The Rosewood is also aimed at wealthy Asiatic visitors and hopes that Yangon's cultural sights such as the Shwedagon Pagoda and other Buddhist places will turn out to be attractive.