Japanese students aim to help develop Myanmar’s souvenir market

by

Kyodo

A group of seven Japanese university students have banded together to try to help Myanmar develop a souvenir industry as tourism there begins to take off.

They have undertaken the effort through a collaborative project with students in Myanmar.

They hope the project will help the country’s fledgling tourism industry, which currently can’t keep pace with the demand for souvenirs from the growing number of foreign tourists.

On Sept. 1, the group will start a 10-day study tour called the Myanmar Souvenir Creation Program, organized by IC Net Ltd., a consulting firm that provides technical and management services on development projects backed by the Japanese government and major international agencies.

“As Myanmar will be one of the business hubs in Asia in the near future, I want to talk with local people to know what are the growing industries and what kind of businesses will increase there,” said project participant Joji Sekiya, a 21-year-old student at Nippon Veterinary and Life Science University.

Participants will conduct market research and create new souvenirs in collaboration with 10 students at the Yangon Institute of Economics, a national university in Myanmar.

Masanori Takebayashi, a 20-year-old sophomore at Hosei University, said the project provides a valuable opportunity to “learn through actual practice” outside the classroom.

At an Aug. 10 orientation for the participants, a workshop provided training on product design and development, as well as business models targeting the unmet needs of customers.

“I hope you can spark creative thinking by sharing ideas with your Myanmar partners,” Ryoji Higurashi, an official who will give a lecture during the Myanmar trip, said at the orientation event.

During the trip, participants from the two countries will be divided into three teams. They will begin by interviewing tourists to learn what kind of souvenirs they prefer. Next they will hold workshops to share ideas, and finally develop prototype products.

“But it is undesirable that we stop at just creating interesting souvenirs. To make the items really sell in Myanmar’s market, proper business plans are also necessary,” said Higurashi, a former member of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, one of the technical assistance programs for developing countries overseen by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

“I hope our members can cultivate creativity and communications skills that adapt to multicultural environments through the trip,” Higurashi added.

In March, IC Net implemented a trial trip for the souvenir program, with participants producing some prototype souvenirs such as the country’s traditionally printed skirts, a book cover featuring a Myanmarese character, and key rings.

The company based the project on a proposal by one of its young employees, Reika Tsukagoshi, following a visit to the country.

“When I went to Myanmar on a business trip, I wanted to buy some souvenirs to bring back to Japan, but I couldn’t find any cute ones,” said Tsukagoshi, who will travel with the participants to Yangon.

“I think it would be nice if some new souvenirs could be created through coordinating ideas between students of Japan and Myanmar,” she added.

Prototype souvenirs produced through the project will be sold at the Bogyoke Aung San Market, a popular tourist destination in the heart of Yangon, to gauge the response from tourists.

Since Myanmar began to open up to the international community in 2011 following decades of military rule, the country has been attracting a growing number of foreign visitors.

The number totaled about 1.6 million in the first seven months of this year, up more than 40 percent from the same period in 2013, according to the latest data released by Myanmar’s Hotel and Tourism Ministry.

The number of Japanese visitors has likewise been rising, totaling some 48,000 in 2012, more than double the previous year, according to the Japan National Tourist Organization.

“More foreign visitors are expected to flood to the country in the future, as the ancient city-states of Pyu became Myanmar’s first entry on the UNESCO World Heritage list in June,” said Takahiko Makino, an adviser at the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

JICA, in expanding its aid program in Myanmar, has tied up with the Hotel and Tourism Ministry to develop regional tourism.

“JICA’s assistance to Myanmar focuses on enhancement of people’s livelihood, capacity building, and infrastructure, while supporting the country’s tourism industry is an area that we are just getting started in,” said Takeharu Kojima, another adviser working for the agency’s Myanmar team.

As for souvenirs, the country “is famous for traditional handicrafts by its ethnic minority groups,” Kojima said. “I think they would benefit from learning about marketing management.”