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[Herald Interview] Sky Asia pushes for Myanmar’s first cable car project

A Korean company is helping develop infrastructure for the rising tourism industry on Myanmar as it plans to build and operate the first cable car in Mount Kyaiktiyo in Mon State next year.

“The cable car will give easier access to Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, better known as the golden rock, located at the summit of the 1,100-meter high mountain,’’ Sky Asia CEO Yoo Sun-ha said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.

Sky Asia CEO Yoo Sun-ha. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
Sky Asia CEO Yoo Sun-ha. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)

Currently, visitors can reach one of Myanmar’s most famous Buddhist pilgrimage sites by traveling in pickup trucks or hiking four to five hours.

Sky Asia, a joint venture between Seoul-based Sky International and Asia International Fisheries in Myanmar, has pushed for the 22 billion won ($20 million) cable car project in the country since it won the 50-year build-operate-transfer contract from the Myanmar Investment Commission last December.

Sky International, established by Yoo in Seoul to focus on development projects in Myanmar, holds an 80 percent stake in the joint venture firm.

“The cable car construction is not a mega-investment project, but it is a landmark deal for Korea, considering the difficulties in getting approval from MIC,’’ Yoo said. Sky Asia was one of the only two foreign-invested firms that got permission from the investment agency in 2014.

Foreign capital has flooded Myanmar since 2011 when power was transferred to a civilian government from the military junta. Following the peaceful power transfer, the U.S. and EU lifted sanctions on the country.

Myanmar’s new government, however, still strictly screens foreign investment projects, evaluating economic benefits from such proposals. As a case in point, all the nine Korean banks seeking to start operations in Myanmar failed to attain a business license last year.

“The secret behind winning the government-backed bid was long-term and trust-based relationship with the local community,’’ he said.

Yoo has built relationships with citizens and officials from different sectors in Myanmar for more than two decades since he started doing business in the country in 1993 as the branch head of Kolon Global Corp.

“Back in 1990s, Kolon and Daewoo were the only two Korean companies running a branch in Myanmar,’’ he recalled. He also led the Korean Association in Myanmar in 1997 and 1998.

In addition to human networking, he said his recent experience in the cable car business helped him to win the bid. Yoo completed Korea’s first maritime cable car project in Yeosu, South Jeolla Province, in December, together with French lift maker Poma.

Seeing a growing number of Korean firms trying to tap the market he advises them to change their approach to emerging markets.

“Korean firms tend to prefer government-sponsored, low-risk projects for stable financial gains, but emerging markets like Myanmar are looking for long-term investors, who think of not only financial gains but also social contribution,’’ Yoo said.

By Seo Jee-yeon (