Inlay always reflects the story of Myanmar inbound tourism industry. It has always been one of the most recommended and visited place for tourists travelling out of Yangon. Yet, COVID impact of 2020 plus continuing COVID, fraudulent elections and the resultant government change impact of 2021, left the industry players and investors in a conundrum of indecision on whether to pull out, sell out or chicken out! ‘2021 is nearly gone and this season is as good as dead’ said Hervey Flejo of Thanakha Inlay Hotel.
Another hotelier lamented on how they have been surviving desperately with zero revenue and only costs for the past two years. On average about 80% of all hotel staff have been retrenched or terminated. They have been trained by international hotel players for many years and it is such as waste of resources and talent to have these trained personnel go back to their villages or hometowns to redo their previous occupations, such as farming, fishery, etc. At least from the bright side, they still can earn a living after being made redundant.
Hotels along the edge of the Inlay lake would face a double whammy when they reopen. Some investors wanting to generate highest returns within the shortest possible time horizon, insisted on building bungalows on the water with wood or some even bamboo poles. The payback period is reputed to be only three years for lake side hotel investment in Inlay. Now without a maintenance operations for two years, the bungalows are falling apart. They would not be safe for accommodation either. The hotel owners either have to renovate in full scale or abandon the place or sell it off at a major loss.
Just less than a mile or two away, along the main road from Inlay to HairHo Airport, a Myanmar actor and celebrity, Lwin Moe, was planting lilies, imported from Holland and selling all over the country, a couple of years ago. ‘The Florist by Yun’ was well known on social media. Now his two acre farm lies in ruins, deprived of life.
Yet, there are still those looking to stay put around Inlay for the long term. Nathan Win, an American and a Myanmar Permanent Resident, runs a 40 acre avocado farm near Inlay with his family and a bunch of staff. He is looking forward to be the first to product avocado oil in Myanmar, in 2022. Peeler, extractor, distillers are all ready, for operation once an engineer from Europe come in to show him the ropes.
Back to Inlay. The lake is now very much in need of tourists and travellers from near and far. Local visitors do come, after COVID travelling restrictions were lifted in October. But this is hardly a match for the nearly 5000 hotel rooms available. We need foreign tourists to come and and we need them fast.
Hoteliers such as Hervey Flejo of Thanakha Inlay has been inviting his friends and contacts to come to Inlay at least to keep his hotel running. Expats, repats and local visitors who wanted to enjoy clean and safe environment has been coming to his hotel, albeit in lesser numbers. The monthly operating costs of even a 30-room boutique hotel can be substantial. Even keeping the pool running clean at a set temperature can set you back by a couple of thousand dollars. Then there are staff costs, utilities, fuel, repair and maintenance, etc. We are talking at least $10,000 a month for a small hotel. The only way to breakeven is through the revenue from visitors.
Places of interests such as weaving factory, blacksmith shops, tomato farms in the water, cat monastery, hot springs, etc., are also in need of tourists. Probably the worst effected could be those driving motorised sampans, whose income solely come from transporting tourist across the lake. Now most of them are jobless and desperate for an income. Signs of tourists and visitors waving at each other from Sampans are no longer there. There isn’t anybody to wave at anymore.
The survival and revival of Inlay lake depends on people like us, staying within Myanmar. A small short visit may be for us, but a giant step forward for the survival of Inlay!