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Tourist bodies issue warning

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Phat Lin, who lives with Buddhist monks at Preah Vihear temple, sits near a Cambodian soldier at the temple on February 9. Photo by: Reuters

SIX Cambodian tourism associations have appealed to Cambodia and Thailand to end fighting in the areas around Preah Vihear temple to avoid harming the tourism industry in both Kingdoms.
Tourism Working Group co-chair Ho Vandy said the conflict risked causing damage to the temple, as well as the reputation of the two countries. “We are very worried about the border dispute area. If they continue fighting each other, it will seriously affect the tourism industry,” he said yesterday.

The six associations – including the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, Cambodia Hotel Association, Cambodian Restaurant Association, Cambodia Bus Association, Cambodia Guide Association and Tourism Working Group – requested Cambodia and Thailand to ask a third party to assist in resolving the dispute in a statement obtained yesterday.

“As businesses in the tourism industry, we are very disappointed with the severe fighting events between each other that lasted between 5 and 7 February,” the groups said in a joint release.

“We don’t want to have a war or to clash with the Thais. We want to change the border areas between Cambodia and Thailand to become an economic zone and commercial area – that would give advantages to both sides.”

In the release, the organisations appealed to international community, particularly UNESCO, to ensure the temple is kept safe and repaired as soon as possible.

Cambodia Bus Association President Sok Chanmony said some bus tours had seen custom drop between 40 percent and 50 percent during the three days of fighting. Sok Chanmony – who is also the owner of Paramount tours – said there was a particular drop in custom to areas near Preah Vihear temple, such as to Sra Em and Anlong Veng cities.

“If they continue to fight, bus tour companies will have a very serious problem,” he said.

However, Tourism Minister Thong Kong said the ministry had not received any complaints from tourism agencies about the conflict affecting tourism until yesterday’s statement from the six associations.

“Since the end of January this year, the number of international tourists has increased from day to day – it has not been affected by the border dispute,” he said.

The number of visitors from Thailand had dropped following the dispute, but it had been more than made up by visitors from countries such as China, European nations, and South Korea, he said. Although Thong Kong said there was no immediate impact on tourism, he said it could affect the sector “if the problems continue for a long time”.

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