Ho Vandy, head of Cambodia’s Association of Travel Agents, talks about the state of tourism
Photo by: Chun Sophal
Ho Vandy speaking at his office in Phnom Penh.
What impact has the global financial crisis had on Cambodia's tourism sector?
There is an impact, but [it] is not a serious one.
What do you expect for the sector in 2009-10?
If the financial crisis continues to hit neighbouring countries [and] if the political crisis in Thailand worsens, the tourism sector will be hit. As you know, travelling is a secondary need. People will always prioritise things like food. The most serious threat to our industry is Thailand, which is an entry point to Cambodia. If the economic and political situation there declines, then Cambodia will be affected.
What strategies are in place to attract Chinese, Japanese and Indian tourist who might otherwise choose Europe over Cambodia as a travel destination?
At the Government-Private Sector Forum, the private sector met relevant ministries, especially the Ministry of Tourism, which will request a task force to study how to attract more tourists or at least keep current tourism numbers stable.
After discussions, we will show our report to the prime minister for input and for implementation because the private sector is a partner with the government in decreasing the price of tourism services.
How concerned are you about the ongoing political crisis in Thailand?
We are concerned. The crisis does have an effect because Thailand is an important connection point for the airlines that fly worldwide. There are [many] travellers coming to Cambodia through Thailand and, if they cancel, it will affect us. That is why the government and the private sector have partnered to run a campaign to encourage tourists to come to Cambodia through Malaysia, Singapore, China and Vietnam.
What about the visa-free travel agreement between Cambodia and Vietnam? Will both nations benefit from that?
Yes, of course we, as travel agents, will lose some business, but the agreement will benefit the economy as a whole.
THE MOST SERIOUS THREAT TO OUR INDUSTRY IS THAILAND, WHICH IS AN ENTRY POINT TO CAMBODIA.
How can Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos work together on a strategy to attract greater numbers of European travellers to the region?
We need a transparent mechanism to be successful in this, which means no one country can think about absorbing most of the profit by themselves. All countries in the region must respect each other, and this must be the basis for any administrative system used to facilitate the tourism sector, such as the visa-free agreements. If tourists can go freely from one country to another, this will benefit everyone.
What has been done to prevent foreign tourists from entering Cambodia for purposes of sex tourism?
We are enforcing the laws that are already in place. When travel agents register for licences, we agree that we will not promote these kinds of practices. We, as agents, are agreed that sex tourism damages any country's reputation as a legitimate travel destination. We have also sent the message to business partners around the world that Cambodia's tourism sector is focussed on cultural [tourism] and ecotourism. If we focus on these aspects, we will never have any problem attracting visitors. Cambodia, like many other countries, has rich natural resources, such as national parks.
What is the state of Cambodia's tourism sector in relation to international standards of service?
The private sector continues to urge the government to allow debate of the tourism law drafted in December 2007 before the National Assembly, and to implement its provisions for the Ministry of Tourism and related departments. Some companies have previously operated illegal businesses, in which they have cheated customers and dealt in fabricated goods in order to take advantage of unsuspecting travellers. This has had an enormous impact on Cambodia's tourism industry and all services related to it.
You and other tourism officials met privately with Prime Minister Hun Sen. Were you satisfied with his response to your concerns?
Yes. As the co-chair of the Tourism Working Group, I found that for every issue we raised, the government gave its full attention. Cambodia's tourism sector includes numerous other industries, all of which affect each other. Cambodia has a large number of hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and travel agencies. So, the government has responded quite well to the issues that most affect us and the country as a whole.
In the meeting, we voiced the concerns of all private firms and tourism service providers. We are targeting matters of national interest, not just our business interests.