Ang Kim Eang, President, Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA)
The President of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA), Ang Kim Eang, took time to answer questions with the Post’s Stuart Alan Becker about the importance of antiquities to Cambodia’s tourism industry and the trends in the composition of the people who visit Cambodia.
How important is Cambodia’s hosting of the World Heritage Committee this year?
I think this is very important and a good opportunity for the people and particularly for the tourism sector, not only from a cultural standpoint, but good for tourism.
What are the most popular places for visitors to go in Cambodia?
Angkor would be number one. About 30 per cent of visitors only visit Siem Reap.
Where do directly flights to Siem Reap come from?
Direct flights serve Siem Reap from Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Pakse, Vientiane, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul and Guangzhou.
In addition to your presidency of CATA, you are also the CEO and President of Great Angkor Tours. What kind of tours do you offer? What are some popular durations and destinations?
We offer classics like heritage tours. We are offering from three days to two weeks. Sometimes they start from the Lao border, sometimes they start from Siem Reap and sometimes they start from Phnom Penh. They could stay two nights in Phnom Penh, three or four nights in Siem Reap, perhaps two nights in Battambang and also Sihanoukville for two or three nights. Tours like that can cost roughly from $800 to $1,500. They normally travel by bus and the price depends on the number of people and the quality of the hotels.
Where do people who visit Cambodia come from?
Last year in the whole country, Vietnam was number one for visitors, China number two, Korea number three, Japan number 4 and five was Lao people. The growth from Laos is jumping. France, UK and United States, are all within the top ten.
From what countries do you see growth in visitor numbers?
Laotians are growing the fastest, Vietnamese are number two, and Chinese number three.
When you were a boy, you lived in a Khmer Rouge camp, and your father died of starvation. Now you’ve worked your way up, and you’re a father of two and you have a travel agency with ten people working for you. Doyou see a good future for Cambodia?
I am very positive about the growth of tourism in Cambodia. I’m sure it is going to keep growing and growing because the tourism sites in Cambodia are totally unique and are known internationally. Angkor temple is not only a world heritage site, but is also one of the seven ancient wonders of the world.
Where else do visitors mostly go?
Angkor Wat, PreahVihear, Koh Ker in PreahVihear province, and Beng Mealea near Siem Reap, Banteay Chhmar in Banteay Meanchey near Siem Reap, Prasat Preah Khan, and Kampong Svay also in Preah Vihear Province. In Takeo they have very old temples from the sixth century, originally from the Angkor civilization. We also have natural heritage in the south of the country. Our visitors enjoy the beach at Sihanoukville, the top of the Bokor Mountain, the temples in the caves at Kampot and the 50,000 hectare mangrove reserve. We also have an eco-tourism site around the mountains between Koh Kong and Sihanoukville, as well as Kravanh which is near Sihanoukville. In Cambodia’s northeast, we have eco-tourism in Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri, Stung Treng, and Kratie. Trips along the Mekong River from the Lao border to Kratie are particularly interesting and very beautiful. You can see the river dolphins.
If you look at all these places, what are some of the high-growth destinations?
The beach at Sihanoukville and the northeast part of Cambodia are both fast-growing regions. In the northeast we still need a lot of infrastructure like hotels and restaurants. Battambang is also a growth area. The provinces surrounding the Tonle Sap are also growth areas.
What are some of the challenges for Cambodia in the tourism industry?
We need to improve the quality of our infrastructure. The quality of the roads needs to be improved. We need more long haul flights to Europe, to North America, to Australia, Japan. Right now Air Berlin has a nonstop service to Siem Reap. Qatar Airways has a direct flight toPhnom Penh. We wouldlike to see direct flights from India. China has many direct flights but we need more. Our tourism associations need to improve and I think we need stronger promotions and more budget money from the government to promote Cambodia.
What’s the importance of Cambodia’s heritage?
Our heritage is one of the masterpieces of the world for all human beings to see. This was a great civilization and you can see evidence of that. Our ancient people who built these temples are still living in the shadow of the temples. At the pyramids the people nearby are newcomers, but we Cambodians are still here.
What do you think is Cambodia’s greatest tourism asset?
Without a doubt the Khmer people are very beautiful and they smile honestly and genuinely. This quality of people is very difficult to find.
People in general are smiling and not just working in the tourism industry. You can find that easily in the countryside, along the river, along the street and even if they are riding a buffalo they will give you a beautiful smile.
What stage of development is Cambodia in now?
We are in the improving and growing stage. National development follows human social development.