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Siem Reap feels pinch of tourism downturn

Foreign tourist arrivals in Siem Reap fell 11.2 per cent during the first nine months of the year compared to the same period one year earlier, as the Kingdom’s top tourist gateway sees its most significant slowdown in visitor arrivals in decades, new government data shows.

Chheuy Chhorn, deputy director of Siem Reap’s tourist department, said just under 1.55 million tourists visited Siem Reap province in the first nine months of the year, compared to 1.74 million during the same period in 2014.

He attributed the decrease to external factors, such as bombings in Bangkok in August and the crash of an AirAsia flight last December, which resulted in cancelled travel plans. Many travelers also nixed vacation plans following the MERS outbreak in South Korea earlier this year.

“Tourists are scared to travel,” Chhorn said, “Our tourism is reliant on neighbouring countries, so any troubles in these countries impacts tourism in Siem Reap.”

He explained that most tourists pass through other Southeast Asian countries, such as Thailand or Vietnam, on their way to Cambodia. In many cases, a visit to Angkor Wat near Siem Reap is tacked on to the travel itineraries of tourists touring other countries in the region.

Siem Reap has achieved an average of 19.2 per cent annual growth in tourist arrivals since 2009, when arrivals grew only 7 per cent due to the global financial crisis.

Last year, more than 2.3 million foreign tourists visited the city, led by Vietnamese, Chinese, Laotian and South Korean nationals.

Khiev Thy, president of the Angkor Tour Guide Association in Siem Reap, said this year’s declining numbers would have a far-reaching impact on the local economy.

“This is the first time that tourist numbers in Siem Reap have gone down,” he said.

“The high season has already started but the number of tourists visiting has not increased.”

He expressed concern about the impact on the city’s tourism-based economy, as well as government revenue.

Tourism directly contributed 13.5 per cent of Cambodia’s GDP in 2014 and supports nearly 1 million jobs, according to the London-based World Travel and Tourism Council.

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