Home Insider Interview with Terry Blackburn Managing Director, Asia Property Awards and Property Report

Interview with Terry Blackburn Managing Director, Asia Property Awards and Property Report

Name: Terry Blackburn

Position : Managing Director, Asia Property Awards and Property Report


What did you first come to Myanmar and what was your impression then?

Four years ago. My first impression of Yangon was a run down, but very well preserved city with a huge potential for renovating its colonial era buildings and avoiding the wholesale destruction of them. There were some decent residential and hotel developments, but clearly retail needed a lot of work to come up to the standards of neighboring countries.

What are the major changes you’ve seen in the country since you arrived?

A lot more development, much worse traffic, but a much improved hospitality industry resulting in a more diverse and interesting dining and entertainment scene.

Could you start by telling us a bit about Asia Property Awards and what the brand stands for?

The Property Guru Asia Property Awards programme was established in Thailand in 2005 with the goal of recognizing the finest in the real estate markets at a domestic and regional level. It was envisioned to be the ultimate hallmark of industry excellence in the Asian real estate sector, with a credible, fair and transparent award and judging systems. Simply, winning an Asia Property Award is the genuine mark of excellence in the industry. Over the last 12 years the programme has grown to include various markets in Southeast Asia and Greater China, and in 2017 we’ve further expanded the programme by including categories for new markets such as Sri Lanka, The Maldives, Laos, India and Mongolia. Today we have 16 markets participating in our eight gala dinner events around the region. The Awards are a fantastic platform to showcase property leaders, experts and personalities, as well as a venue where key industry figures can meet and network.

How does Asia Property Award develop human resource capacity in Myanmar?

We set a benchmark for quality development. Quality development needs highly skilled builders, engineers and managers, so hopefully we can help raise HR standards in the industry by encouraging higher standards in development. Also, all developers that enter are asked about their CSR initiatives which is an important factor in two awards – Best Developer and Special Recognition in CSR.

How many awards were given out last year in Myanmar?

In 2016, during our second annual gala dinner, we presented 17 awards to 22 shortlisted developers. More than 300 guests attended the ceremony, so it was a good year.

What are your thoughts on the upcoming condo law?

The sooner the better. Lack of finance to buy projects for Myanmar nationals, and foreigners being unable to buy property are the two major drags on the sector currently. A condo law will give a lot more confidence to foreign investors and add an important part to the framework needed for banks to lend to local property buyers.

What are your thoughts on Myanmar’s real estate sector and the direction it might go?

A lot depends on the current government. With a clear licensing regime, a condo law, a foreign investment law, improved infrastructure and long term planning, Myanmar can regain its place close to the top of the queue for exciting places to invest in ASEAN. Beyond Yangon, there is massive potential for tourism growth in the islands and mountains, but there is still a long way to go before that sector starts to move beyond niche appeal.

How do you see the upcoming foreign investment laws affecting your operations?

It sounds like it could be good news for the economy, so should be good for the Property Awards. We see in a lot of ASEAN markets that local developers can benefit from foreign expertise when they first start to grow, so there’s no reason to think that would be any different in Myanmar.

If you could offer up a change to a major government policy, what would it be?

I think developers mostly just want to see clear policies so they can get on with their business whilst following them. Stalled, canceled and frozen developments do not do a lot for the country’s image in the regional business community, so the government needs to demonstrate it can create effective policies to govern the real estate sector and send a clear message that it is pro-business. If they do this alongside a detailed plan for preserving the country’s colonial heritage so it’s clear where new development can and can’t take place, Yangon could be a very special city in 20 years’ time.

What are the current projects that your team has been working on?

We are expanding the Asia Property Awards to Laos, India, Mongolia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives this year, so a busy time ahead.

What’s the best solution to boost Myanmar real estate sector, in your opinion?

A condo law, bank lending for property buyers and improving infrastructure now before it is too expensive and complicated later. I am sure developers would welcome the opportunity to create communities one MRT or BTS station at a time, as they do in Bangkok, and Yangon has the existing train line to do it, if it’s improved.

What advice would you give to someone who is looking up to start up a business and invest in Myanmar?

Get a good lawyer, be patient and have a long-term vision. Large short term returns are highly unlikely, but there is huge potential in the long term. Apart from Laos, Myanmar is the last truly emerging market in ASEAN, so there will always be a lot of risk, but that’s part of the fun for anyone doing business there.

What are the major differences between working in Myanmar and other countries?

It’s a cash economy, which can make doing business slow at times, but for an events business it is relatively easy to get things done unlike highly regulated markets such as Vietnam and Indonesia. As a foreign company doing business in Myanmar we are made to feel broadly welcome, which is always a good sign.

From a business standpoint, what do you feel will be the biggest challenges facing you and your team over the next 1-3 years?

Maintaining the high standards and credibility we have set across 13 countries, with hopefully more coming soon. Awards are meaningless without credibility and that takes a lot of work to get right. Apart from that one of the major upsides of doing business in multiple countries is that as markets slow in some they rise in others, so hopefully that balance continues to stay in our favor across Asia, so we can maintain overall growth.