Is Myanmar ready to host the SEA Games?

With Myanmar set to host the SEA Games in less than a month, can the newly opened nation pull off one of the largest sporting events in Southeast Asia?

A Today report pointed out issues of poor telecommunications and underdeveloped infrastructure raising concerns for Singapore’s 300-odd athlete contingent heading to Myanmar for the event.

A spokesperson for creative agency Imagination said there is a risk the Myanmar economy and society might not be ready to fulfill the potential of the SEA Games and the possibility of the infrastructure built for the event going obsolete for lack of future purpose and use is high. Corruption and insufficient human and capital resources were other factors cited.

Although there is an increase in tourism and foreign investment since Myanmar opened up, hotel offerings, transportation and service levels need to improve substantially in order to rival established SEA destinations.

“Hence, higher attractiveness has to be gained through a combination of steady economic growth and education of professionals in the service industry,” he said.

Andrew Thomas, regional managing director for Southeast Asia, Ogilvy Public Relations said that Myanmar needs two things to take off as an events destination.

It needs to be on the international radar in the market and it also needs to bring the people together to demonstrate that Myanmar is competent. “This creates opportunities for the Burmese to show why they should be proud of their country,” he added.

Tourists will also have to contend with language problems, dated public transportation systems and older and scarcer hotel offerings as well.

“However, anything that can promote tourism and welcome Myanmar back in from the cold would be welcome. It has to start somewhere,” said Imagination’s spokesperson.

Because of the recent terrorist attack in Yangon and Myanmar taking the chairmanship of Association of Southeast Asian Nations next year, the pressure on the government to show they are ready and get recognition is considerable, he added.

However, events professionals think it is still a gold mine of opportunities yet.

Opportunity awaits

Jed Mok, general manager, Pico Art International said that critics should give Myanmar a chance.

“Ironically, it is actually not uncommon that a host country makes use of such opportunities to speed up their development. Certainly, things can always be better in comparison to what is available back home, but we should not forget we were once there too,” Mok added.

Imagination’s spokesperson said that the event will allow Myanmar to make the most of the newly built stadiums and facilities to attract other major competitions like swimming, athletics and other sports in the future.

The growing economy and average disposable income could also lure international entertainment acts to be held in the main stadiums, he added.

Thomas said that while the country lacks the efficiency found in more developed countries yet, the amount of progress it has made in the past 1.5 years is astounding.

While transportation and telecommunication connectivity may be a challenge, event organisers can turn it into an advantage for their experience.  Myanmar may be a perfect destination for team building and corporate retreats, where the lack of modern distractions actually works better, Mok added.