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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Preah Sihanouk tourism dips 9pc

Preah Sihanouk tourism dips 9pc

First-quarter tourist numbers down on last year in latest sign of sector downturn.

Clash has little impact

THE exchange of fire between Cambodian and Thai troops last week has had little impact on the nation's tourism industry, an official said Tuesday. "I have told our customers that the border conflict is further than 300 kilometres from ... Angkor," said Ho Vandy, co-chairman of the Government-Private Sector Working Group on Tourism. Following the outbreak of hostilities Thursday, the United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office warned its citizens against travel to Preah Vihear and advised them to be alert in other border regions. Several other nations - including Australia and the United States - maintain warnings from a similar clash in October.

THE number of tourists visiting Preah Sihanouk province dropped 9 percent in the first quarter compared with last year, the provincial department of tourism has announced.

Tourist arrivals to the end of March were 179,000 compared with 196,000 in the first three months of last year.

Seng Kha, deputy director of the tourism department, said 51,000 of this quarter's tourists were foreigners.

He said the reason for the drop was probably due to the global economic crisis and the border dispute with Thailand, which has been ongoing for nearly nine months.

Seng Kha said provincial tourism authorities were working to enhance the sector through embracing ecotourism and by improving security.

A number of foreign tourists have been attacked at Sihanoukville in recent months, causing alarm among restaurateurs and tour operators.

The provincial police report lists 23 crimes against locals and tourists in the first three months of this year.

Tuk Vanntha, the provincial police chief, could not be reached for comment.

Suon Maneth, a vendor on the popular Occheuteal beach, said he had noticed fewer tourists.

"Certainly from January until now I have seen fewer visitors coming here, but I don't know whether that's due to the economic crisis," he said.

"I know the authorities have tried to develop a lot of attractive places for tourists to visit, such as developments on some of the islands, but the number coming is still low."

Suon Maneth noted that in previous years the run-up to Khmer New Year was always busy "and we would never have free time to talk as we do today".

Chheng Somaly, the owner of the Chheng Lyly restaurant at the town's Phsar Leu market, agreed that business had dropped off.

"At previous celebrations such as Women's Rights Day, Khmer New Year or Christmas Day we had a lot of people, but now it seems so quiet," she said.

"The increase in crime has put people off - this year four people have died during robberies and three vehicles were stolen."

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