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People participate in Ankor Sangkran festival games as part of the Khmer New Year festivities in Siem Reap province last year.
People participate in Ankor Sangkran festival games as part of the Khmer New Year festivities in Siem Reap province last year. Pha Lina

Khmer New Year prices hard to contain

A recent government circular warning tourism establishments against price gouging during the upcoming Khmer New Year is unlikely to discourage the practice, tourism experts said yesterday, describing the document as yet another toothless attempt to rein in prices during the biggest public holiday of the year.

A Ministry of Tourism circular issued on March 20 stated that all businesses involved in the tourism industry would be expected to maintain the price levels of their products during the three-day festival that begins on April 14. The circular warned that any business found to be gouging tourists would be liable for legal action, though did not specify the nature of this action or under which law or regulation it would be enforced.

Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodian Travel Agent Association, said price gouging was a recurring problem during the annual Khmer New Year holiday. She said hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and transportation are heavily booked during this period, leading some operators to steeply inflate prices – a practice that puts hardship on Cambodians and can negatively affect foreign tourist perceptions.

“It is always the same issue: prices always increase two or threefold, especially for food, and it is hard to control,” she said. “Price gouging can negatively affect the experience of tourists visiting the country.”

Sivlin said the Tourism Ministry’s circular was unlikely to discourage the practice as it lacked any enforcement mechanism.

However, Ho Vandy, deputy secretary general of Cambodia’s National Tourism Alliance, said the latest effort could be more effective than in previous years – provided the government follows through on its threat to punish offenders.

“This is the first time that the government mentioned the possibility of fines, so I hope it will be more effective than before,” he said.

Neb Samuth, director of the general tourism department at the Ministry of Tourism, said every year the government issues warnings against price gouging during the Khmer New Year holiday, but conceded that there was little it could actually do to control prices. He said the latest circular was only intended as “a guideline” to maintain the reputation and quality of the country’s tourism industry, and could not be enforced.

“We only advise them as we cannot enforce these measures or fine them because this is a free market,” he said. “We are only able to educate them so they understand the need to maintain quality services in the tourism industry and build up its reputation for long term benefits.”

CATA’s Sivlin suggested that the government might do better by creating a platform to collect customer reviews from their travels to then determine if any pricing abuses occurred during their stay.

“It’s hard to punish [tourism operators] because this is a free market, but pressuring them by gathering customer reviews in a central system could help make business in the sector more responsible,” she explained.

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