Officials say measures taken by the government should ease fallout from protests in Thailand and the global economic downturn as tourism suffers
Travellers look at a departure schedule, which shows that most flights are cancelled, at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok last December.
TOURISM officials said that Cambodia could avoid a protracted tourism slump as a result of civil unrest in Thailand, despite the loss of millions of dollars following protests last year and signs that the latest turmoil has hit domestic travel numbers.
Official estimates put the Kingdom's financial fallout at between US$350,000 and $490,000 lost each day during Thai protests in November and December, which included the closure of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Ho Vandy, co-chairman of the Government-Private Sector Tourism Working Group, said Cambodia had experienced a drop in tourist numbers from the latest fallout in Thailand as travel agents had sold trips to both countries as a package.
"This affects Cambodia when those tourists cancel their visits to Thailand," he said, adding that each tourist spends on average $700 during a stay in the Kingdom.
Of the 2.13 visitors to Cambodia last year, just over a third - 34.65 percent - arrived via Thailand and 33.36 percent arrived via Vietnam. Of this number, 16.5 percent came by air from Thailand and 16.4 percent from Vietnam.
Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said that Vietnam had since taken over from Thailand as the main entry point for tourists into Cambodia, something which the government has encouraged.
"Now, we cannot rely solely on Thailand - we have one more significant tourism gate, which is Vietnam," he said. "Currently, more foreign tourists come from Vietnam."
Tourism Ministry figures reflect this with the number of visitors coming from Vietnam by land or sea increasing by 51.39 percent last year compared with a 18.3 percent increase for Thailand.
New Zealander Marika Hill is indicative of the trend. She said she planned to visit Cambodia in June via Singapore instead of Bangkok, having been stranded in Thailand for two weeks during last year's protests.
"Ultimately, we can't afford to risk losing time, money and work leave if we become stranded in Bangkok again," she said, adding that the latest unrest had prompted her to avoid Thailand this time.
The impact of the protests on tourist numbers was visible during her last visit to Bangkok, she said, with empty hotels and few foreigners on the streets.
Ho Vandy said the flip side was that people could extend their time in Cambodia as they did not want to go to Thailand.
He said the private sector had urged the government to cut visa prices and fares to Angkor Wat.
In the midst of the global recession and the coming low season, Thong Khon said that the government was looking for ways to promote Cambodia as a destination.
"We have worked to curb the effects of declining tourist numbers by promoting our tourism industry - especially ecotourism - to get tourists from within the region, like from China, where the economy has not been as badly affected by the financial crisis," he said.
The government had taken measures to ease passage at border crossings and promote cheaper travel packages, he said.
Ho Vandy said Cambodia would need to establish a national carrier to boost tourism.