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Russian market hit by travel slump

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Clothing and fabric vendors at the major tourist market say the global economic slowdown and recent slump in the tourism industry have hit sales as travellers reduce spending on souvenirs

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Sovann philong

Tourists shopping for souvenirs at the Russian Market in Phnom Penh.

FOREIGN visitors to Phnom Penh's premier tourist market have fallen off as the global economic downturn continues to squeeze the tourism industry, according to market vendors who spoke to the Post.

Vendors estimated that the number of foreign customers entering Tuol Tumpong Market - popularly known as Russian Market - have dropped by at least a third in the first three months of 2009 compared with the same period last year.

"Almost 80 percent [of vendors] aim to attract foreign tourists," said Chan Heng, 47, who sells souvenirs at the market. "If they stop coming, our income will drop off."

She added that her earnings had shrunk since the onset of the economic crisis, falling from an average of US$950 to $600 per day.

Vendor Heap Oun, 34, said that her business had declined between 20 and 25 percent because of the downturn. "In 2008 many foreigners came shopping here and I earned $700 per month. But now I earn only $400 to $450 per month," she said.

Phan Vannary, 28, a cloth seller at the market, noted that 2008 saw a steady stream of visitors from the United States, England, Germany, France and the Philippines, but that arrivals to her stall had nearly halved.

"Now I get only 10 people per day. Last year and in 2007 I got 15 to 20," she said, adding that her income had fallen from $1,500 to $2,000 per month previously to as little as $1,000 - a similar situation to other cloth vendors.

A Russian Market manager, who asked not to be named, confirmed that the number of foreigners shopping at the market had decreased by around half over the past three years, falling from 1,500 to 2,500 people per day in 2006 and 2007 to around 600 to 700 per day currently.

"The number of foreigners shopping here has dropped sharply since the beginning of the year, but I hope there will be more foreign visitors in the next few months," he said.

He added that the market's food stalls were still crowded.

Ho Vandy, co-chair of the government private sector working group on tourism, said that the tourist low season and the world financial crisis had affected visitor numbers to markets and shopping centres across the country.

"We are waiting for the high season in August, September and October, but I am concerned that during that time there will be low tourist numbers," Ho Vandy said. 

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