In what Prime Minister Hun Sen explained in May as an apolitical "re-shuffle"
in the name of public progress, media-savvy Minister of Tourism Lay Prohas, of Funcinpec,
was replaced by CPP Central Committee member Dr Thong Khon. Now, the 56-year-old
Khon described as "mayor" of Phnom Penh during the mid 1980s, is at the
helm of a bullish $2 billion tourism sector that increased by 20% last year. According
to the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism contributes an estimated 20% to
Cambodia's GDP, and provides nearly 16% of total employment. The industry is predicted
to grow by 5.7% per annum, in real terms, between 2008 and 2017. Khon, the newly
appointed Minister of Tourism, talked to Sam Campbell on July 16 about threats to
Cambodia's temples, tourism policy and the poor.
How does tourism benefit poor Cambodians?
We have two plans. One is pro-poor and one is community based. In the suburbs and
on the outskirts of Angkor Wat we have a lot of projects to benefit the poor - our
pro-poor plans. We encourage people to grow vegetables, flowers and fruit to supply
the hotel industry and tourists. Another thing is that we set up community-based
tourism. Through community-based tourism we can help the poor. Tourists come for
home stays [lodging with a family in their home], enjoy local food, use local tour
guides, and use local transportation in the village. At the same time, we encourage
production of good quality handicrafts with good packaging. They can sell these which
will benefit the poor.
What is the government doing to prevent unregulated development?
The rules are strict to prevent it. We have to make development through successive
smaller developments. Ecotourism is the key; we want to protect the environment.
Do you primarily promote high-end or low-end tourism?
We promote all tourism, high and low. But we have to enhance, to make public, all
our messages; not just sell to high-end tourists. There is no difference between
high and low class tourism but we have to promote high quality service. We have to
improve the quality every year.
Given Cambodia's poverty, lack of infrastructure, and recent events such as the
PMT air crash, and theft from the Angkor Archaeological Park, is luxury tourism feasible?
Even though we have some problems...the government, especially my Prime Minister,
takes good care of all the programs.
Cambodia has shown good behavior to welcome the police when something happens. Cambodia,
as a host country, takes good care about that. Up until now there has been no flight
or package tour concerns.
I think the golf course event [the 3 day Cambodia Open Tournament in Siem Reap] is
a good event for Cambodia. From now on we can show the world, not only Asia, what
Cambodia has today - it is not only a world wonder, not only a world heritage site;
we also have some other amusements and attractions like golf courses. So please come!
Come once and you can have both - Angkor temples and golf courses of international
Conservationists have warned that the use of groundwater is undermining the temples
at Angkor, leaving them at risk of collapse. What measures are in place to prevent
We have to prevent the damage. It is a technical issue - if we continue to use over
8,000 cubic metres of groundwater, we will affect the structure of Angkor Wat. Now
the government has a good plan to change from using groundwater to using water from
the lakes and Barays [man-made reservoirs]. Now, today, we have enough water from
the Barays to supply the western area [of Siem Reap].
Was your appointment politically motivated?
Me? Who said that? [Laughs] You can ask those people. You don't ask me. If you ask
the people, you may know.