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Thai soldiers face off with anti-coup protesters in Bangkok
Thai soldiers face off with anti-coup protesters in Bangkok yesterday. Cambodia says it will act to avert any possible drop in tourist numbers as a result of regional unrest. AFP

Tourism campaign to counter unrest

The Ministry of Tourism will hold an emergency meeting with industry leaders and representatives in Phnom Penh today to look at what can be done to curb the loss of cross-border visitors resulting from unrest in neighbouring countries.

Minister Thong Khon yesterday emphasised the need for Cambodia’s tourism industry – which relies on a steady flow of visitors from within the region – to remain strong amid a military coup in Thailand and tensions in Vietnam over a sovereignty dispute with China.

“We need a promotional campaign to attract tourists, to inform them about our potential destinations and that if they cannot come into Thailand, they can come to Cambodia by taking a direct flight,” Khon said.

The Thai military seized power on May 22 after more than six months of unrest spurred by protests against Premier Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration. The coup raised immediate concerns for tourism sentiment in the country.

Two weeks ago in Vietnam, violent anti-China demonstrations flared after a Chinese oil rig was deployed in waters also claimed by Hanoi.

An upcoming promotional campaign, the minister said, would include advertising and accommodation discounts targeting tourists from countries such as Japan, South Korea, China, Singapore and Malaysia, and would encourage them to take direct flights to Cambodia.

“I will discuss with local operators about what they can do to keep the number of tourists up. We expected Cambodia will receive 4.8 million tourists this year, but we will have to work hard to get this number,” he said.

Khon added that the number of tourists arriving in Cambodia via Thailand has decreased over the past few weeks as political tensions have heightened, continuing a downward trend seen since the start of the year.

Data released earlier this month showed a 13 per cent decline in all tourist arrivals from Thailand during the first quarter of 2014 compared with the same period last year.

Ang Kim Eang, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, said the unfavourable conditions elsewhere in Southeast Asia could in fact be an opportunity for the Kingdom’s tourism operators.

“For the tour packages that have already been booked and cannot be refunded, tourists will choose to skip Thailand and tour Cambodia or other countries in the region,” he said.

Thoun Sinan, chairman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association, said tourists had actually grown accustomed to coups in Thailand and that he did not expect a dramatic decrease in the number of people crossing the border.

“I do not see it affecting Cambodia unless Thailand closes its airport or closes its checkpoints with Cambodia,” Sinan said. “Cambodia does not only rely on the route from Thailand. Tourists can come to Cambodia through Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore, and Qatar is also a big tourist gate for Cambodia,” he added.

Banteay Meanchey Provincial Governor Kor Samsarouen said visitor traffic at the Poipet border crossing was at its regular level.

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