Tourist flood sees record Myanmar visitor numbers


, Last Updated: 2:41 PM ET

A record one million foreign visitors surged into Myanmar last year, official figures showed Tuesday, as dramatic reforms lured travellers to the long-isolated nation as it opens to the world.

The tourism ministry reported an almost 30 percent rise in arrivals in 2012 to 1,060,000, from around 800,000 the year before, as tourists and business travellers flocked in.

"This is a very outstanding year for the industry. We have never experienced it before," said Phyoe Wai Yar Zar of the Myanmar Tourism Board.

Booming visitor numbers have raised fears that the industry will be unable to cope with the influx, with hotels raising prices as rooms become ever scarcer.

The tourism ministry figures said the country has just 28,000 rooms in around 800 hotels.

But Phyoe Wai Yar Zar said the sector was not yet overwhelmed.

"Our current capacity can handle it very well. It is not the optimum yet," he said, adding that the ministry expects a further increase of 15 percent in 2013.

Myanmar has become the darling of the travel industry as it burnishes its international standing with a raft of changes under a reformist government, including the election of democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.

The country is also firmly in the sights of foreign investors eager to get a foothold in one of Asia's last untapped markets.

Earlier this month, state media reported that around 350,000 foreigners had visited the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda in the main city of Yangon, up from around 80,000 in 2008 when the country's reputation was tarnished by a bloody junta crackdown on monk protests the previous year.

In October Myanmar aviation officials urged the private sector to help upgrade the main international airport in Yangon, with passenger numbers poised to surge beyond its capacity.

Among those arriving by plane -- around half of the total -- Thais were the largest group by nationality, with 94,000, followed by around 70,000 Chinese visitors.

There were around 37,000 arrivals from the United States, 30,000 from France and 24,000 from Britain, the ministry figures showed.