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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Fear and confusion cloud Angkor 2000 countdown

Fear and confusion cloud Angkor 2000 countdown

With just three weeks before the official "Angkor 2000" millennium celebrations

are scheduled to begin at Angkor Wat, hospitality industry representatives and tourism

officials alike are expressing concern about the festivities' potential success.

"I'm afraid it's going to be a catastrophe," said one Siem Reap bar owner.

"They expect so many people to come here, but the facilities and preparations

just aren't ready."

The government has touted the Dec 30- Jan 2 Angkor 2000 celebrations as a world class

venue rivaling New York Times Square and the Egyptian Pyramids to celebrate the advent

of the millennium. Critics including King Norodom Sihanouk have derided the millennium

plans for Angkor Wat and neighboring Siem Reap as unrealistic, pointing out that

hotel and on-site toilet facilities fall far short of those needed for the hoped-for

30,000 visitors.

"I don't know if they'll even be enough food to go around in Siem Reap if the

thousands of people expected actually show up," one worried Siem Reap restaurateur

told the Post.. "We've already begun stockpiling food and supplies, but I haven't

noticed many other people doing the same."

Attempts by the Post to get details of the official preparations for the Angkor 2000

celebrations from officials in Siem Reap were unsuccessful. Government tourism officials

referred enquiries about the celebrations to the official Apsara Authority responsible

for Angkor Wat. Apsara officials claimed to have no information about preparations

for the festivities and referred the Post to Siem Reap Governor Chap Nhalyvuth, who

is currently on vacation in France.

Travel agents in Siem Reap expressed frustration at the lack of information provided

by tourism officials about the planned festivities. "Nobody's told us anything

about things like whether there'll be separate admission fees to the events and what

exactly will happen," a travel agent complained. A spokesperson for Indochine

Travel Services told the Post that international holiday season bookings for Siem

Reap were lower than those of previous years.

Cambodian Tourism Minister Veng Sereyvuth confirmed that there were official doubts

about Siem Reap's capacity to absorb what he predicted would be "tens of thousands,

perhaps more than 100,000" revelers at Angkor Wat, but insisted the show would

go on.

"I actually worry that the crowds will over-strain the area," he said,

adding that he expected thousands of Cambodians from all over the country to descend

on Angkor Wat for the millennium. "But at this stage we can't tell people not

to come."

Matthieu Ravaux, owner of the Chez Sophea restaurant opposite Angkor Wat, warned

that poor planning for the celebrations may damage Cambodia's long-term tourism development.

"I'm happy about the millennium celebrations and I really think they will work

one way or another, but I worry about the aftermath," Ravaux said. "I'm

afraid that visitors will see the problems of Cambodia [arising from inadequate preparation

for the festivities] and go back to their countries with bad opinions of Cambodia."

Sereyvuth, however, rejected suggestions that millennium celebration snafus could

damage Cambodia's still-nascent tourism industry.

"There'll be shortfalls, for sure, but the majority of people who attend will

know already that Cambodia itself has shortcomings," he said. "I don't

think people will back off because [the celebrations] don't measure up to international

standards."

Seryevuth also confirmed that the government's plans to inaugurate a fleet of 300

Korean-made electric vehicles as the exclusive mode of transportation between Siem

Reap and the Angkor Wat complex had been postponed until at least January.

The government's initial announcement in October that private vehicles would be banned

from the Angkor Wat complex upon the implementation of the electric vehicles had

caused outrage in Siem Reap, where approximately 1000 people make their living as

taxi and motorcycle taxi drivers for tourists visiting the temples.

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