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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Arrivals rise 10pc in August, but data masks downturn

Arrivals rise 10pc in August, but data masks downturn

090929_07
Foreign tourists visit Angkor Wat last month. Government figures for August showed a 9.98 percent rise in arrivals, but analysts said the gains were came courtesy of low-spending day-trippers.

After a 10.35pc year-on-year rise in visitors to the Kingdom in July, latest figures suggest a recovery, but analysts say most increases are from overland crossings.

Tourism in 2009
Arrivals up to end of August by type of transport with the percentage change year on year:
Air 730,936 -13.03pc
Land 562,867 +20.54pc
Sea 54,062 +15.03pc
Total 1.42m +1.37pc

Source: Ministry of Tourism

TOURISM arrivals climbed again in August, but analysts warned that the data did not signify a recovery in the sector, with the gains mostly coming from visitors crossing overland borders rather than air arrivals from the higher-spending developed world.

Last month 171,668 foreigners came to Cambodia, Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said Monday at an inauguration ceremony for a new ministry building in Phnom Penh, a 9.98 percent rise on last August when the Kingdom received 156,098 overseas tourists.

“We can determine that Cambodian tourism is recovering due to a rebound from the global financial crisis,” the minister said.

August’s rise in tourists follows a 10.35 percent annualised increase for July after the previous six months of 2009 all saw year-on-year decreases in arrivals. For the first eight months of this year, tourist numbers rose 1.37 percent compared with the same period last year, Thong Khon said Monday.

However, the figures mask the fact that high-spending tourists from areas including Europe are still in decline as the developed world struggles to recover from the global economic crisis, and that gains in visitors were made largely in regional tourists, said Kong Sopearak, director general of the ministry’s statistics office.

“Although we see the number of tourists from the region has increased, they do not spend much during their visit,” he said.

The ministry’s latest figures showed a 13 percent slide in air arrivals in the first eight months of 2009 year-on-year, whereas land arrivals were up 20.54 percent: Visitors from Vietnam rose 43.66 percent and from Laos a staggering 126.29 percent over the same period. Overall day arrivals climbed more than 50 percent in the first eight months of this year, the figures showed.

Visitors from the United States increased slightly, by 2.26 percent in the first eight months, and from the United Kingdom 15.1 percent more visitors came to Cambodia during the same period.

However, Japanese visitors were down 14 percent, and those from South Korea – previously the top visitors to Cambodia – slid 31.23 percent up to the end of August this year, the data showed. Visitor numbers from Australia were also down – 5.38 percent during the same period.

“It just declined by country – our main tourist markets are still doing well,” said Kong Sophearak.

However, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation to Phnom Penh last week said recent figures, if taken at face value, painted a distorted picture of what would appear to be a tourism recovery in the Kingdom.

The IMF projected a contraction for the tourism sector in the second half of the year at a press briefing last week, citing a double-digit decline in air arrivals and reports from hotel operators of a “sharp reduction” in occupancy rates and forward bookings that are “sharply down” from last year.

“We don’t have a lot of reason to be optimistic with regards to near-term performance in this sector,” said David Cowen, deputy division chief at the IMF’s Asia and Pacific Department.

Headline arrival numbers were a poor gauge of tourism sector fortunes, he said, as an increase in same-day arrivals had masked a drop in tourists from key countries including South Korea and Japan.

“Tourism is up but driven by regional tourists, particularly from Vietnam where the waiver of visa fees has made it an attractive destination,” he said. “Air arrivals are down and air arrivals are typically going to bring you higher-spending tourists.”

Despite the IMF forecast, the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents (CATA) said Monday that it remained optimistic about the rest of the year.

“Although [tourist numbers] merely went up just over 1 percent … it is better than a drop…. It is a good sign,” said CATA President Ang Kim Eang, referring to the first eights months of 2009. “I think our sector will get better over the next few months because the global economy is now in recovery.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NATHAN GREEN

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